Home sweet library

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

Without shelter and with no place to go, dozens of homeless people seek refuge along the halls and desolate corners of the Marriott Library.

Most of them live out of the suitcases they bring with them; some have even been spotted trying to sleep there overnight, though are usually caught by security.

There is no exact count of the homeless people who use the library, but Darrel Williams, head of protection services, estimates the number has increased since the arrival of the TRAX connection at the U was opened in 2001.

“I have rarely seen operators perform random checks for tickets on TRAX,” Williams said. “So unfortunately, it has become a quick and easy way to travel between the homeless shelters and campus.”

Marie Paiva, social sciences librarian, said homeless people spend up to 14 hours in the library in a day, reading, sleeping and browsing the Internet.

“This is a public university, so anybody can come in for any reason,” Paiva said.

Although most of them prefer to keep to themselves, several “regulars” are known among the library staff, said Heather Baker, a junior in consumer and community studies.

“There’s suitcase man, headphone man, crutches guy, the gamers and spider man,” said Baker, who has worked as a library aide for a year and a half. “There’s also chair lady, who gets upset when people sit in her chair.”

“Crutch man,” as several library aids have dubbed him, hides underneath tables and likes to browse in the juvenile section. Although he is well known among staff members, he has never approached or talked to any library employees.

Among the collection of things left over by the homeless visitors, library employees have found shaving cream, razors and stacks of canned food hidden behind books.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” said Jessie McKinney, U alumna in film studies. “I think we just kind of co-exist.”

The “gamers” are a group of five men who play “World of WarCraft” against each other on the computers all day, Baker said.

Non-students can buy a library card for $50 with a valid form of identification; 24-hour computer passes are available at no cost.

Paiva said homeless people are welcome as long as they don’t violate the rules.

According to library policies, inappropriate behaviors include interfering with the work of others, wasting resources and any activities that include the violation of state or federal laws or U procedures.

“Computers are for educational purposes only,” Paiva said. “Most of the time though, I think they just use them to pass the time.”

And although they have been asked to leave if they are taking up student resources, there have never been any physical confrontations, Williams said.

“We do everything to accommodate our patrons’ needs,” Williams said. “However, if they cannot follow the library guidelines and are creating an unpleasant or disruptive environment, they will be asked to leave.”

On average, Williams said two to three homeless people are asked to leave every month.

And although the numbers are likely to increase, he does not encourage the homeless to go someplace else unless they are violating user responsibilities.

“The library’s mission is to serve students and faculty,” Williams said. “It is a public building and, therefore, extends its reach to the community.”