No-sleeping rule at public libraries unwelcome change for Edmonton’s homeless
A patron in the Stanley A. Milner Library in Edmonton on Monday, April 13, 2015
Photograph by: John Lucas, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Darren Richards describes the Stanley A. Milner Library as a quiet, safe haven.
Richards has been homeless for four years and uses the downtown library daily, as a place to read, charge his cellphone and nap.
That will change May 1, when the Edmonton Public Library implements a no-sleeping policy at all its branches.
Louise Reimer, director of branch services, said the rule is necessary because the central library has become a “de-facto day shelter.”
“That’s not our role,” Reimer said. “The library is an active, engaging place where people come to read, study, converse.”
But Richards calls the ban on snoozing “ridiculous.”
It’s hard to get rest at night in a busy shelter, he said. During the day, he walks so much his feet get sore. He goes to the library to “take a load off,” read a book and close his eyes.
“If you’re exhausted, you fall asleep. You can’t help it,” he said Monday afternoon, sitting on a comfy chair on the library’s main floor, reading Robb Report magazine. “Where can we go now? There’s no place to go. It’s mean.”
Coun. Scott McKeen said the policy change “is a clear reminder that we need some kind of day shelter in Edmonton.”
Julian Daly, executive director of Boyle Street Community Services, said it highlights a deeper issue around housing in the city.
“The people sleeping in the library should have a home to sleep in,” he said.
Starting May 1, Reimer said library staff will wake any sleepers, make sure they’re OK, let them know sleeping isn’t allowed, and try to connect them with other resources in the community.
“We haven’t really talked about banning people for sleeping,” Reimer said. “It will be very supportive, not a hard-nosed approach.”
Prior to 2011, the Edmonton Public Library did not allow shut-eye in its libraries. But that year outreach workers were hired at the downtown branch and staff starting taking a more flexible approach.
The library will keep its three full-time social workers, Reimer said, and staff will continue to be welcoming to all patrons, including those who are marginalized.
“This is not about pushing away certain groups of people, absolutely not,” Reimer said. “The fundamental essence of what we do as a public library is that we’re there for everybody. We’re a welcoming space for everyone, and we’re not diverging from that whatsoever.”