Library asks people to stay off property overnight

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The Pikes Peak Library District has started enforcing a trespassing ban on four library properties during overnight hours.

The library is asking people not to be on the property between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Enforcement started Monday night into Tuesday morning. It’s being enforced at Penrose Library, East Library, Old Colorado City Library and Library 21c.

“We have had people camping on the grounds of the library for quite a while, and it’s been something that has grown as the issue of homelessness in Colorado Springs has grown,” said John Spears, chief librarian and CEO for the library district. “It reached a point where, on a given night, we might have 80 or 90 people, and it just wasn’t something that was sustainable because we don’t have the facilities that people need in order to live outdoors.”

Spears said the issue has been discussed since November. “No Trespassing” signs were put up Jan. 7, and people were given a week before enforcement started so they could figure out where to go next.

Before enforcement began, the library brought in community resources to try to connect people with other places to stay.

“Any policy that we do that’s going to affect people to the extent that this is, it’s not something that we just drop on them,” Spears said. “It’s something that we want to have discussions with them, and we want to make sure that everyone is as comfortable with it as possible and everyone can adjust.”

At Penrose Library specifically, Spears said a large amount of the people who use the library are homeless.

“The computer labs here are very popular with people experiencing homelessness, whether it is just to stay in touch with their family through email or to fill out a job application or to fill out an application for a form of assistance that might be able to help,” he said.

To help connect those people with even more resources, the library district hired a social worker in October. She’s stationed at Penrose but can travel to any of the libraries to help people in need.

“She’s not just here to help people who are experiencing homelessness. She is really here to help anyone who might have a specific need, whether it’s someone who might be going through domestic violence, someone who is at risk, a youth that find themselves in a difficult situation,” Spears said. “Those are people who all have different information needs, and it was a type of information that we weren’t necessarily equipped to provide.”

Spears said the library also worked with the Colorado Springs Police Department and city attorney’s office on enforcement. He said the police department would be in charge of enforcing the new trespassing ban.

CSPD said it would only respond to the library if someone called in a complaint about trespassing. An 11 News crew saw a CSPD car parked outside the library around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

11 News spoke with a woman who identified as homeless and asked to stay unnamed. She said she'd been sleeping at the library for about 2 months, and police officers told everyone Monday morning that if they came back they would get a ticket.

Lt. Howard Black with CSPD said the penalty for trespassing depends on the circumstance. He said the officer has the discretion whether to give a verbal warning or arrest a person caught trespassing.

“What we have been told, and what we are assuming will happen, is that if they find someone on the grounds of one of our libraries after hours that is not using the library for a program or returning books, it will start with a conversation. That it’s not going to just be a ticket straight off the bat. That it will be a conversation,” Spears said. “They will be hopefully referred to one of the shelters, and it’s only if the person refuses to leave or becomes combative that a ticket would be issued.”

Spears said the trespassing ban is really for the safety of the people who had been sleeping outside. He said everyone is more than welcome to use the library when it’s open during the day.

“The people that have been staying here at night are people that we know. They are people that we’ve learned their stories, that we have found out why they are where they are,” Spears said. “We don’t want to make this difficult for them. We don’t want to be just one more place that shuffles people on because, as a society, we don’t want to see it. That’s not why we did this. We did this for their safety, and we did this to hopefully get them to a place where they can have the security that they deserve.”