BOULDER, Colo. –
As Timothy John stood outside the Boulder Public Library clutching a cup of coffee Monday afternoon, the homeless man said he was there for a simple reason.
The library’s warm, and welcoming, he said. There are lots of computers, and John, who’s been homeless for months since losing his job working on oil wells across Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, uses them to update his resume.
“Where would you go?” he asked.
Over the past few months, city officials say, growing numbers of homeless people have been spending time in and around the Boulder Public Library’s main branch, at 1001 Arapahoe Ave. It might be a sign of the economic times, or just a geographic shift, observers say.
“The Boulder Public Library reports an increase in apparently homeless persons seeking day shelter in the main library and people along the creek near the library,” Richard Johnson, Boulder’s director of community service, wrote in a memo to the City Council last week.
“This may be due to an increase in homelessness, but may also be attributed to migration from Eben Fine Park, further upstream, which has recently seen a decrease in the number of apparently homeless individuals using the park as a gathering place.”
This spring, officials from several city departments — police, Municipal Court, library staff and others — will meet to try to figure out how to respond to the increase, Johnson said.
“It’ll be good to all sit down and figure out where we are,” he said.
Johnson said the recession may not be behind the shift. People who’ve been pushed into unemployment and homelessness by tough economic times are probably a distinct population from the “chronically homeless” who spend their time in and around the library, he said.
James Budd, a formerly homeless man who spent years on the streets in Boulder, said he thinks the increased presence of homeless people near the library may be due to their exodus from Eben G. Fine Park.
Budd said the park isn’t as accommodating to homeless people as it used to be — especially since the parks department installed a children’s playground a few years ago.
Now, he said, homeless people are likely to be moved along by police.
“Eben G. Fine has become a sanctified place for soccer moms,” Budd said. “Women with kids — they can’t hang out down in Central Park because of the homeless people, so they go up there… It’s family time up there during the day, so we stay the hell away.”
Boulder police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said officers have been increasing patrols all along Boulder Creek “in response to some quality-of-life issues that have been occurring along that pathway.”
Lynn Reed, the library’s information services manager, said homeless people have always been a part of libraries. As she spoke Monday afternoon, homeless people — mostly men — were sitting quietly at tables and in chairs tucked into corners of the library.
They were reading newspapers and books, or watching videos on YouTube. Reed said she hasn’t noticed a sizable increase in that group’s population.
“I’m thrilled that they’re here,” she said. “They’re very engaged with the library.”
But, she said, there is another group of transients who are more likely to show up when the weather’s cold. They’re just “congregating,” she said, using the library as a place to warm up. And they’re the people other patrons are more likely to notice and complain about.
“It’s a community issue,” she said. “It impacts the library, but at the end of the day, it’s a community issue.”
Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at 303-473-1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.