NEEDLES IN THE STACKS
Libraries beset by violence, addicts in restrooms
Hypodermic needles on restroom floors of Boston public libraries and fights among homeless people are alarming trustees and patrons, who say even the city’s ornate historic main branch in Copley Square is not off limits to the unnerving hazards.
“How many times do we get emails about people passing out in bathrooms, and syringes, those are things I’m worried about,” said library board of trustees Vice Chairwoman Evelyn Arana-Ortiz.
“Kids come out of school and come here and have to go to the bathroom and confront themselves with that. That has an impact on kids’ heads; someone passed out in the bathroom and syringes — those are the things we really need to be proactive about,” she added at yesterday’s library trustee meeting.
The library is turning to city substance abuse and homelessness officials to find out what other agencies are doing to deal with the same problems citywide, trustees Chair Robert Gallery told the Herald after the library board meeting. He added needles being found and homelessness in the libraries are a daily problem.
“One of our big concerns over the last 15 to 18 months, that comes up every day, is the safety of our people as well as the safety of our patrons,” Gallery said at the meeting.
Jim Greene, the director of the city’s Emergency Shelter Commission, told trustees the homeless population at the libraries has increased — as have conflicts.
“Issues have increased in Copley; the West End branch has had persistent challenges, and the South End as well,” Greene said.
Trustee John Hailer said the violence and the opiate epidemic creeping into city libraries is a surprise.
“This influx seems to have caught us all off guard — not just on opiates but on services,” he said.
Gallery said he did not have statistics on overdoses at BPL facilities, and a Boston Public Health Commission spokesman said those details were not immediately available.
Jennifer Tracey, director of the city’s Office of Recovery Services, said she works with local librarians to manage bathroom safety, but Gallery said there’s only so much libraries can do.
“By definition, we’re a public building that’s open to all,” Gallery said. “I don’t know what the trustees of the Boston Public Library or even their very strong management team can do to prevent the challenges of drug use across society today.”
State Rep. Byron Rushing, who is also a trustee, said libraries need to treat everyone who comes in with respect while dealing with safety concerns.
“How we group people has to be as objective as possible, not out of any prejudices, conscious or unconscious,” Rushing said at the meeting. “The problem for homeless people is that they don’t have a place to live, not that they are annoying.”
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George called it a “sad reality” the BPL must confront the opioid crisis.
“Needles are a dangerous problem in our parks and libraries and are one of the worst symptoms of the opioid crisis,” she said last night. “As I have been working on this issue, I’ve heard from librarians and friends groups about this problem; it’s a very scary reality for them.”
She said the city’s Mobile Sharps Team, which responds to calls of needles, is on the case — adding “but it’s not enough.”
SAFETY CONCERN: Boston Public Library board of trustees Vice Chairwoman Evelyn Arana-Ortiz, Chairman Robert Gallery and President David Leonard, from left, discuss the increasing presence of drugs at BPL branches during yesterday’s trustees meeting.