masthead_37.jpg
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Once a haven for people sleeping outside, after fire, Pittsfield library bans loitering

Outside the Berkshire Athenaeum, the public library in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where people without homes sometimes sleep.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPM
Outside the Berkshire Athenaeum in early November, where people without homes sometimes slept. The Athenaeum is the public library in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

After a fire broke out Nov. 21, the Berkshire Athenaeum, the public library in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has changed its policy that allowed people to sleep near the building. Previously, the library had been a kind of haven for those without homes who sleep outside.

The library entrance is topped by an overhang that provides some shelter from the elements. That, free Wi-Fi and access to toilets drew people who do not have homes, who sleep outside.

In addition, the library did not to require people to leave
the area outside the building at night.

But early last Monday, someone's bedding caught on fire. It spread to a shopping cart with more bedding.

Library director Alex Reczkowski said he believes it was an accident, probably from a cigarette. He said police extinguished the fire, but a library window cracked.

Now, people are not allowed to be outside the library when it's closed.

A notice alerts patrons of new regulations regarding loitering outside the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Berkshire Athenaeum website
A notice alerts patrons of new regulations regarding loitering outside the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

"Probably hardest for me is just recognizing that without a number of alternatives to offer people, that it does mean it's likely that these folks will be on other properties around the city," Reczkowski said. "Maybe more private properties or business properties where they're less equipped or less staffed to manage some of the challenges that come along with that."

Reczkowski has tried to address the needs of some of the people who have been sleeping outside by encouraging social service, drug treatment and health care agencies to meet with people at the library and bring health vans.

He said police are patrolling outside of the library when it's closed.

Reczkowski wrote in an email that police "inform folks that they cannot be staying at the library and will issue a trespass notice after repeat notifications."

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.