© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Advocates call new West Palm Beach library 'safety protocols' another hit on homeless

Homeless people in West Palm Beach received yet another sign last week that city officials don’t want them around.

The sign — this one literal — was posted on the door of the Mandel Public Library. The three-paragraph missive outlined “new safety protocols” that prohibit certain items from being brought into the downtown library on Clematis Street.

Unsurprisingly, to those who have watched the city’s ongoing efforts to make life difficult for homeless people, none of the items are likely to be used by people who bring their children to the library for homework help or to attend Tuesday night yoga.

Instead, the prohibited items include backpacks with frames, suitcases or bags that measure more than 3 feet in width or length. Things on wheels, such as shopping carts and bicycles, are banned, “specifically (those) being used to carry or store baggage.”

However, wheelchairs and strollers are still allowed as long as they are being used to transport “an adult or child,” according to the directive signed by “Library Administration.”

What prompted the action? City spokesperson Diane Papadakos didn’t respond to an email for comment.

Last week, Papadakos and Mayor Keith James also refused to respond to questions from WPEC-Channel 12 reporter Al Pefley about what James was doing to address complaints that the downtown is overrun with homeless people.

“Cause, we're not interested in talking about that,” Papadakos told Pefley, according to a WPEC video of the confrontation that went viral.

When Pefley refused to back down, the video shows Papadakos waving over Kravis Center security guards. Pefley was ejected from the luncheon where James received a Housing Hero Award from the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County for supporting affordable housing.

Joey Nieves, director of homeless outreach for The Lord’s Place, said the city has a long history of villainizing the homeless. The new library restrictions are just part of those efforts, he said.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said.

Despite vocal and emotional opposition, the city last year passed a law forcing those who want to feed the homeless to get permits imposing severe limits. After a judge declared the measure unconstitutional, the city tweaked it.

In 2020, the city tried to pass a law making it a crime to sleep on city streets. Instead, it enacted a measure limiting the prohibition to downtown and the Northwood area. On Oct. 1, as a result of a new state law, sleeping in public will be banned throughout the state.

The library is one of the only places homeless people can go to have some semblance of a normal life, Nieves said. While some just want to watch videos, others use the public computers to write resumes or find out about job openings or places to live.

The reason for the restriction is obvious and, sadly, likely to be effective, he said.

“It will make the homeless not want to go there and that’s what they’re trying to do.” 

A full list of behavioral policies can be found on the library website here.

This story was originally published by Stet News Palm Beach, a WLRN News partner.

More On This Topic