On Wednesday Dec. 27 the National Weather Service has issued its first wind chill advisory in Boston where temperatures are expected to range between five above zero to twenty below zero degrees.
Frostbite conditions like this can kill people, and at the Boston Central Library on that day a man was tossed out into them because he was really, really tired.
Outside the Johnson Building of the Boston Central Library in Copley Square, the homeless gather among people who are cocooned in Canada Goose jackets. It is a state-of-the-art facility that attracts tourists from all over the world. The hooded faces press into the glass and stare at the clock, knowing what awaits them inside—bathrooms, comfortable chairs, electrical outlets for charging old devices, and an escape from the bitter cold.a
There is a Newsfeed Cafe, the reputable, open-access WGBH satellite studio, and a sign that reads, “Free to All.”
Near the entrance, the cross-armed security personnel wait and watch with wearied faces the oily ones stamping the glass outside.
At nine o’clock the doors are unlocked and a flood of people with rolling suitcases, duffle bags and backpacks rush inside to thaw between the isles of bookshelves, onto soft reading chairs, warm toilet seats, and in front of computer screens where they watch Youtube, connect to services, and engage in social media.
These are the library’s real patrons.
Meanwhile, security keeps its presence, enforcing library policy, monitoring guests for things like food and drink, doing regular parameter checks, nudging people awake, and dealing with disruptive individuals.
The library is relatively quiet today. Many students are on vacation.The homeless charge their phones and laptops, inventory their food and belongings, read newspapers besides students of elite universities, catch up on their hygiene in restrooms, and when they can, sneak in a power nap.
It’s approximately 11:30 am. A row of homeless men sit on their usual chairs on the second floor of the Johnson building, under a massive American Flag the size of a theater screen. Immigrant men, sunk into chairs seemingly depleted of energy. Today, there are three of them, resisting their forceful removal by three policemen tucked in thick winter coats.
“Get up!” One red-faced policeman demands of a man outstretched on his back on the floor. I don’t know the circumstances of the police call, but the three men sink their heels, undoubtedly fearful of the cold outside.
One groggy-eyed, elderly man clings to his chair—as if desperate to get back to whatever dream he was having. But sleeping is against library policy, as well as, “lying down or sleeping in the restrooms or on any floor, couch, table, or seat in the Library, and by blocking aisles, exits, or entrances by sitting or lying down in them.”
The man sways in his chair, in limbo, quietly resisting the officers who quickly grow impatient with him. The policemen pull him up, tear him from his chair, and force him into an elevator. His two friends take the stairs.
Finally, the man is carried outside by the arms and is left to sit on a bench.
I inform the Boston Central Library in Copley Square of the incident and inquire about their protocol regarding these situations.
They reply that “The library does not make determinations regarding the status of patrons (homeless or other) at any time, including when enforcing library policies.” They state that the rules prohibiting patrons from lying down or sleeping are for the safety of other Library visitors and the staff. Anyone violating these rules “will be approached and spoken to with the intention of letting them know they are not allowed to do so. Repeated violation of rules would likely prompt a staff member to ask them to leave for the day.
Repeated behaviors like falling asleep because you haven’t been able to find a warm place to sleep in a long time.
Behaviors that could warrant barring from the library include “serious disruption,” such as threats, harassment, or violence. But each situation is treated on an individual basis.”
They inform me of Mayor Marty Walsh’s initiatives to end homelessness in Boston, an endeavor that has since established the BPL as an outreach site for homeless services.
Meanwhile, a homeless man is left outside to rock and sway and sleep and dream against the cutting cold wind.