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Aspen library policy no literary snoozer

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Don’t get caught sleeping at the Pitkin County Library.

Library staff and board members, along with county officials and area case managers, will meet Thursday to discuss a new policy aimed at area homeless people sacking out in the stacks.

Despite the new homeless day center at the Health and Human Services building ” a program designed as a refuge for area homeless people ” library workers say they still have a problem with mostly intoxicated, sleeping visitors.



“Over the course of many years, there’s been a gradual increase in the homeless population in the valley,” said librarian Kathy Chandler. “We are looking at changing our policy.”

Chandler said the library’s long-standing practice of denying library service only to patrons who are disturbing others is not tough enough, so she’s crafted a new rule prohibiting “prolonged use of the facilities without demonstrated engagement in acceptable library activity.”




“Basically, you can’t really sleep in the library,” Chandler said.

Library staff would enforce the rules, Chandler said.

“It can be a problem because some of them snore,” said library staffer, Nathalie Crick. “Most of the time they are pleasant, but sometimes they are intoxicated.”

The homeless population at the library vacillates, according to Molly Ireland, assistant to the librarian. Some days there are no problems, she said, but often loud-talking, singing or snoring visitors disturb patrons, prompting library employees to call the police.

Ireland suggested that intoxicated people might be put off by the no-drinking policies at the homeless day center on Castle Creek Road, where visitors are likely to come in contact with substance abuse case workers at the Right Door. Instead, they hit the library.

“You don’t know if somebody’s asleep and if there’s something wrong with them,” Chandler said.

In fact, a known homeless man died on the library steps, Chandler said.

Chandler said her goal is to find a balance between the rights of the individual to use public spaces and keeping the library a safe, comfortable environment for all patrons, Chandler said.

“We want everybody that uses the library to feel welcome,” she said.

Even so, she hopes to come away from Thursday’s brainstorming session with a new plan.

While many area homeless people nap daily at the library, just off Main Street in Aspen, on Wednesday afternoon the couches and chairs at the homeless day center at the Health and Human Services on Castle Creek Road were empty.

Open from 9 a.m. to about 6 p.m., the day shelter welcomes up to 12 visitors daily, according to Laura Drexler, day center supervisor. Some days no one shows up. And many guests also spend their nights at the temporary homeless shelter at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen.

The day center offers everything from clothes washing and showers to a free lunch or the help of mental health and substance abuse case workers, Drexler said. Not to mention a little tough love.

Officials at the day center do not tolerate extreme drunkenness or bad behavior, Drexler said, and there’s no stretching out on couches for a nap in the day room.

“On a regular basis, I’ll ask them, ‘Hey, what’s your plan?'” Drexler said. And that’s what might be keeping some people away, she said.

“I’m not going to let someone sleep off a drunk here,” Drexler said, although she has allowed some folks to rest under special circumstances. Drexler then leads the visitor to the type of help he or she might need, she said.

“It’s not a flop house; it’s a place to come and get your act together,” said Vince Savage, a local case manager with offices adjacent to the day center.

“I wish the library would kick them out,” Drexler said of unruly visitors.

It’s all about offering a helping hand without enabling people to continue the same behavior, Drexler said.

If someone visiting the day center is obviously drunk and not willing to get help or take a ride to a detox center, for example, they’re not welcome, Drexler said. Day center staff will ask the person to leave and call the Aspen police to ensure they get on a bus.

cagar@aspentimes.com