NEEDLES IN THE STACKS

Libraries be­set by vi­o­lence, ad­dicts in re­strooms

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By DAN ATKIN­SON

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.”

STAFF PHO­TOS, ABOVE, BY NANCY LANE; FILE PHO­TOS, RIGHT, BY AN­GELA ROWLINGS, BE­LOW, BY PA­TRICK WHITTEMORE

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.

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