Jackson County

New tack on homeless issue prompts return of benches to OS library

Mayor Connie Moran ordered the heavy metal benches returned to the front of the public library Tuesday after more than 1 1/2 years.
Mayor Connie Moran ordered the heavy metal benches returned to the front of the public library Tuesday after more than 1 1/2 years. klnelson@sunherald.com

The city is taking a new approach to the homeless and the city benches they often use as beds.

Mayor Connie Moran ordered the benches at the entrance to the city returned to the CTA bus stop, but with dividers to discourage reclining.

Those that were removed from in front of the public library 18 months ago have been returned as well. They have no dividers.

The mayor said simply that removing benches was not the solution for the issue. She and the city got a lot of flak on Facebook about their approach to the issue.

When Alderman John Gill had the heavy metal benches removed from in front of the library, it was because people without a home were loitering there during library hours and sleeping on the benches overnight.

People were continually congregating there. Residents with young children complained to Gill and said the situation made them uneasy about going to the library.

At that time, Gill pointed out a number of places around the library and City Hall where homeless men slept overnight. City Hall workers said they would routinely open the doors at 8 a.m. to find a half-dozen men waiting to get in to use the public restrooms.

Library branch manager Yvonne Parton said things did get quieter around the library after the benches were removed. But she is adamant people who are without homes are her clients as well as other residents.

“We want to serve our patrons the best we can,” she said. “Make the library inviting to everyone, including the homeless. We want to work toward a solution that’s friendly for everyone.”

She said fewer people now stay in the nooks around the library, City Hall and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

“Since they moved the benches, we haven’t had a problem with people camping out,” she said.

Parton said she was aware people had mixed emotions about removing the benches.

City officials said because there were not people congregating in front of the library all the time, they were able to get some things done. In the past year, they have had the outside of the building painted. They are working toward a reading patio out back and doing a thorough cleaning of the cement porch and entrance to the building.

HOSA volunteer tells city officials something needs to be done about people living in the park overnight, leaving trash and belongings.