Hawaii libraries struggle with homeless problem

Hawaii State Library

It’s a sight that’s becoming all too familiar — homeless people sleeping in Hawaii State Library with their belongings around them.

The library’s director, Diane Eddy, says she’s received several complaints. “It seems to me the general public is increasingly disturbed and upset about the numbers of homeless… throughout the community and in the library,” Eddy said.

Eddy says the library has also received complaints about homeless hogging the computers and the bathrooms. Even though the bathrooms are cleaned three times a day, people still complain that they’re dirty.

Eddy says that’s because homeless people do unusual things in there, like laundry in the sink and in the toilet. “A person was actually doing laundry in one of the toilets. That is hard to imagine,” Eddy said.

But, because it’s a public library, officials have to walk a fine line in trying to stop the facility from becoming a haven for homeless and still be open to the general public.

Library officials considered having users ask the desk for a key to the bathroom, but, Eddy says, that wouldn’t necessary solve the problem.

As for the computers, each person is allowed a one-hour session, but staff can’t stop anyone from asking for another session.

Officials have even considered not allowing people with plenty of bags, but, Eddy says, where do you draw the line? “Little old ladies carry bunches of plastic bags too,” she said.

Al Kay is homeless and goes to the library practically every day. He says most of the homeless people there want to get some peace and quiet.

“Some people are derelicts, but to stereotype everybody that’s homeless like that is not accurate,” he said.

“There are very few public restrooms and they’re pretty filthy,” Kay added. “I don’t know where you can take a shower unless you have a place to stay.”

Eddy says other Hawaii libraries, like the ones in McCully and Waikiki, are experiencing similar problems.

She also says libraries in cities around the country are looking for solutions. “We’ve thought and thought about it. It’s very frustrating,” she said.

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