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Homelessness presence at Bangor Public Library causes community to express concerns

Bangor Public Library Director Ben Treat said it's not appropriate for library staff to remove anyone from the library if they're not disturbing others.

BANGOR, Maine — As Maine continues to see a surge in homelessness, the Bangor Public Library and the Pierce Memorial Park next to it have become landing points for people with nowhere to go.

Local business owner Ann Ross owns Body Wise Pilates across the street from the library. She said there's not a day that goes by that she doesn't see unhoused people in the area. Ross said when she gets to work, they're already there. 

"I come early in the morning, and they're sleeping underneath the picnic table," Ross said. 

According to Ross, people experiencing homelessness sometimes need a little support to get back on their feet. Ross recalled the time that she once helped an unhoused individual named Nate restore his life back to normalcy. 

Ross let Nate spend some of his days at her pilates studio and helped him find jobs. She said he is still doing well. 

"He didn't want to be homeless... he ended up that way," Ross said. 

Kesnel Maxime has been homeless for nine years. He spends time at the library and at the memorial park daily. Maxime said the unhoused community isn't getting the support they need.

"Many of it is not having enough resources, not having a place to go—it's not enough people making businesses that help people, nonprofits," Maxime said. "It's very hard."

Bangor Public Library director Ben Treat said he receives complaints about the influx of unhoused people inside and outside the library. 

He said people aren't usually complaining about homeless people being there, but more so complaining about disturbances. 

Nonetheless, he said the library is a public place, and it's a space for everyone. Treat said it's not appropriate for library staff to remove people from the library if they're not disturbing others, regardless of complaints that they receive. 

"If somebody says, well, 'So why are you allowing people to kind of sit in the library?' The thing is: people have been just sitting in libraries since there were libraries," Treat said. 

The library recently received funding from the American Rescue Fund Act (ARPA). Treat said despite some people feeling like the library didn't need the additional funding, because the library often becomes a place where unhoused people go when they need a place to sit or when they're looking for a spot indoors throughout the day, the need was clear.

With the ARPA funding, Treat said the library was able to install security cameras throughout the building. The funding also financed a temporary social worker position, and a social worker is now available at the library to help people find the resources that they need. 

Treat said staff is positioned in several places around the library to monitor areas, making it easier for them to respond if there's an issue. 

Although library staff does not ask people to leave for spending extended time in the library, they do respond to disruptive behavior, Treat said. 

"If there's a group of people who are starting to misbehave, their voices are getting louder—we're able to respond to that and let them know your behavior is being observed," Treat said. "It's not acceptable. If it does continue, you'll have to leave."

Treat said he wants to create a welcoming environment for the community as a whole. He said ensuring that designated areas, like the children's room, are being used for their specific purpose is one way library staff works to maintain a pleasant environment.  

Many unhoused people also spend time at Pierce Memorial Park, which is next to the library. Bangor Department of Parks and Recreation director Tracy Willette said there is now a park ranger program in place that approaches unhoused people that they see in park and recreation areas and works to connect them with the resources they need.

"If there are situations in some of our parks and open spaces that folks feel like they should make us aware of, please do," Willette said. "That's why we've implemented those programs."

While those experiencing homelessness continue to spend time in the area, business owners like Ross hopes the community shows more compassion.

"A lot of us are just a step away from that… I could be a step away from that," Ross said. 

To find resources and to see how the city is responding to homelessness in the Bangor area, click here

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