COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - It’s been one year since the Pikes Peak Library District enacted an overnight trespassing ban at four library locations, and library staff say the measure has been helpful.
People gather outside Penrose Library in downtown Colorado Springs on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019.
“It has been something that has made the library a more accessible place for everyone, actually, both for people experiencing homelessness but then also for everyone else in the community, as well,” said John Spears, PPLD’s chief librarian and CEO.
The library district has asked people to stay off the property at the East, Library 21c, Old Colorado City and Penrose library locations between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
“From what we’ve heard, it’s been working tremendously well,” Spears said.
The trespassing ban was put into place because the library said it had a lot of people camping out on the downtown property overnight, which wasn’t safe for them or sustainable for the library.
“We had up to about 80 or 90 people that were sheltering here overnight, and it reached a point that it was untenable,” Spears said. “We want to make sure that people have what they need, and we do not have restroom facilities. We do not have what people need in order to stay here overnight.”
Since the ban went into effect, the city said there have been more people staying at homeless shelters in Colorado Springs.
“The city did work hard last year to add over 250 low-barrier shelter beds in our community and because of that, we can now say that we have enough shelter beds,” said Andrew Phelps, the city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator. “Since the trespassing signs went up, we have seen complaints about Penrose Library decrease substantially. Also, we have seen shelter beds being utilized at a much higher rate, so we think that’s something that should be celebrated.”
If someone is caught trespassing on library property, Spears said the library has asked the police department to work with the person, instead of just writing them a ticket. The hope is that the officers will help connect people with resources, like the homeless shelters.
“We are here to serve people,” Spears said. “We’re here to make sure people have the resources that they need in order to make their lives better, and we want to do that with all of the agencies that we partner with, as well, whether it is the Colorado Springs Police Department or the Springs Rescue Mission.”
To help people connect to resources better, PPLD hired a social worker in 2019. In the future, the library district hopes to hire a second social worker. In the meantime, Spears said the library is working to add peer navigators that would work with the social worker to reach out to people in need.
“They are people with lived experience, usually either people who have been homeless, people who might be in recovery, but people who have lived experience that can offer not just information but can also offer in a way that they can talk from their own experience to people,” Spears said. “It’s a bridge that allows people to relate in a way that very often our staff can’t.”
Even though the library district is asking people to stay away from the property overnight, Spears said everyone is welcome to use the library during the day.
“We want to ensure that whenever someone needs something, and they come to the library to find it, whether that is information or whether that might just be a place to find refuge, that they’re not punished for that. That instead they’re given what they need in order to hopefully make their life a little better,” Spears said.