County Civil Grand Jury Reports on the Homeless in Pasadena Libraries

Report makes recommendations, requires responses

Published : Monday, October 21, 2019 | 4:53 AM

Pasadena city security guards subdue a man armed with a bladed weapon (inset) during a scuffle at closing time on Friday, August 11, 2017, in the parking lot behind Pasadena's Central Library in the 300 block of East Walnut Street. While most library workers queried on a Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury report claimed to be safe, the investigation revealed problems in some branches including assault, robbery, disturbances, threats, sexual assault, and suspicious activities

The increase in homeless people is pressuring public libraries beyond the provision of books and information into services typical of “social infrastructures” and the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury has some recommendations for Pasadena’s libraries to navigate the transition.

The Grand Jury’s report is scheduled to be examined by Pasadena City’s Council during Monday night’s meeting.

The report concludes with recommendations. Some of them applied to Pasadena’s City libraries and require responses, which city staff prepared for approval in anticipation of the Council meeting.

The Civil Grand Jury is watchdog for the citizens of Los Angeles County. Its members are drawn from all five supervisorial districts and work as a committee in choosing the issues it investigates and reports on.

The document on the homeless is one of nine included in a final report submitted to the Superior Court. The report being heard Monday at Pasadena City Hall is called “The Impact of the Homeless on Public Libraries.”

“The library has become a shelter for the homeless to get out of the cold and to escape from the heat; but it is not the ideal sanctuary for their predicament,” the report said.

As social infrastructure, the report said, libraries have taken on the function of community hubs where library users discover access not only to books, “but to companionship with other patrons as well, busy parents find virtual childcare; language instruction for immigrants, and welcoming safe space for the homeless and the young.”

Parks, playgrounds, schools and other government-supported public spaces also fall into the category of social infrastructure.

“If the desire is to pave the way for a better society tomorrow, then social infrastructure like the library offers unlimited potential for equipping lives for enlightenment and immense opportunities,” the Grand Jury said.

Homelessness, is a crisis, the report said, “that grips Southern California unlike anything else before.”

Most of us are all-too familiar with the ghastly numbers: some 52,765 people living on the streets and emergency shelters in greater Los Angeles, cited in the document

Homeless people have limited choices, one of which is public libraries where they can seek safety and a relief from the pressures of the streets.

“A de facto day shelter,” said the report.

“But soon enough, the use of limited space will inadvertently offend the senses and ruffle the sensibilities of some users, perhaps serious enough to drive away long term patrons,” which is a problem, according to the Grand Jury, given that physical attendance at libraries is dropping.

Furthermore, blocking access brings about a “delicate ethical situation,” which conflicts with the public library’s expressed mission.

“One of the major issues with the reduction in the attendance of the traditional library user is the unknown fear of those who live on the streets,” said the report.

Adjustments are being made.

The Grand Jury took a look at the Los Angeles County Library’s Lancaster Branch, at which some 500 transients gather daily and where they can be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, carry bedbugs, defecate on the side of the building, and other commit such less-than-sociable behaviors.

That library has two full-time Sheriff’s Security Officers posted daily and library staff are trained to deal with unpleasant situations.

Nonetheless, “contemporary library education typically includes no coursework in mental illness,” the report observed, which is important when we consider that 25 percent of homeless people are afflicted.

While most County library workers queried claimed to be safe, the Grand Jury’s investigation revealed problems in some branches including assault, robbery, disturbances, threats, sexual assault, and suspicious activities.

“The problem patron presents many difficulties to library staff,” according to the report. “As a result they are being called upon to be counselors, social workers, and mental health assistants.”

The upshot is that the librarian’s job description is expanding and more training is necessary. The County, its public library and the California State Library, have produced six videos “addressing different aspects of library patrons affected by mental illness and how library staff can respond.”

The City of Pasadena’s Public Health Department and Public Library were among eight entities chosen for investigation by the Grand Jury and that yielded the aforementioned recommendations and city staff rejoinders.

The Grand Jury recommended the city library develop new partnerships with agencies that can provide additional services to library users.

Staff agreed, noting that the Homeless Care Navigator Project was initiated in 2017, “to support the Library staff, patrons and address other gaps in delivery of social services.”

A second recommendation called for more training on how to handle difficult situations.

Staff concurred, noting that the City’s Public Health Department has trained library staff regarding mental health, de-escalation techniques, safety processes, trauma-informed approaches, and self-care.

The Grand Jury’s third recommendation was that funding be secured to hire a clinical social worker or public health technician who could build stronger relationships with the homeless. Again, City staff took no issue, noting that it employs a public health technician called the “care navigator.”

Additional job postings could only be accomplished through monies acquired somewhere other than the City’s general fund, said staff.

A fourth recommendation is that library staff increase their visibility and interaction with the public.

Staff responded that library workers do, in fact, share information and programs and services during National Night Out, Assembly district community events, City Council district community events, Salvation Army events, Library in the Park, and so forth.

Finally, the Civil Grand Jury said it would be a good idea to assign security personnel at each branch. Staff noted that the City employs its own security guards who patrol three of ten library locations on a daily basis, and who are available for dispatch to the remaining seven, “at any time.”

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