Homeless people in Arlington are increasingly seeking daytime shelter at the county's seven libraries, creating what library officials said yesterday are significant problems for the homeless and for regular library patrons.
The libraries do not have any firm figures on the number of homeless people who seek daily refuge at the Central Library at 1015 N. Quincy St., or at the six branches throughout the county. But Susan Segel, assistant director of the county's library system, said it has become a "daily occurrence" to find "clearly identifiable" homeless people at each facility.
Jayne McQuade, head librarian at the county's Central Library, said there are usually at least six homeless people at her library on any day, and the number can run as high as 30 on cold days.
Segel and McQuade said they have been receiving complaints about homeless people at the Central Libary using restrooms to wash in the morning, sleeping on library couches and disturbing librarians and patrons trying to use services.
"Our responsibility is to make library services available to the public," said Segel, adding that most librarians are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, but are not trained to counsel those with mental health, employment or other "heart-wrenching" problems.
The growing presence of homeless people at libraries and other public facilities such as post offices underscores what some librarians and many county residents contend is an urgent need for a daytime shelter in Arlington.
Scores of county residents, testifying at a County Board hearing on the budget Tuesday night, argued that the county had a moral obligation to provide a safe daytime haven for homeless people who have to leave the few publicly and privately funded night shelters each morning until evening.
Many of those people are finding their way to county libraries, some sent by well-meaning volunteers at private shelters who are reluctant to turn them out on the street, especially those with young children.
The county provides counseling for the homeless people who come through two county-funded shelters and the shelters run by Arlington churches. The county recently agreed to buy and convert an apartment building at 1727 Fairfax Dr. into a shelter.
Karen Percy, assistant to the director of the county's Department of Human Services, said the county spends "hundreds of thousands of dollars" annually on the homeless, including paying for "last resort" placements at motels. The county also provides professional counselors each night at the church-run shelters.
Although DHS has not taken a position on the citizens' request for a daytime shelter, County Board Vice Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg said it was "something we should look into and look into seriously." He said he had requested a study on the issue.
But, noting that many homeless people need only temporary shelter, are working and have no mental health problems, Eisenberg said he wants to be careful that such a facility is not used as a tool to restrict the free movement of the people.