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Resident claims Alliston library unsafe, council disagrees

December 21, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

A local resident who runs the Story Dogs program at local libraries has pulled her program from the Alliston branch of the New Tecumseth Libary, saying it has become an unsafe place due to the unregulated use of the library as a warming space.

Carolyn Milne, who has run the Story Dogs program at the library for 20 years, says people have been harassed at the library, along with the use of inappropriate language, smoking and drinking at the library entrance, and loitering, which has made her feel it is an unsafe space for her to run a program for children.

She said she does not report abuses in the library to library staff because “they are not trained to be security.”

Ms. Milne says she is not anti-homeless and has sheltered several un-housed people in her home. However, she says opening the library as a warming space has created a situation where ‘undocumented’ people have been using the library as a hang-out rather than for its intended use.

This creates a situation of ‘liability,’ Ms. Milne said, as there are no by-laws or procedures in place to regulate the use of the area and no criteria which determine the proper use of library space.

“I’m the one that carries the insurance for the program,” Ms. Milne said. “I’ve been going up there twice a week. I’ve had a crowd of people at the entrance to the library, smoking, drinking, using loud voices, and leaving cigarette butts on the ground. It’s very threatening and very uncomfortable. Inside the library, I’ve had concerns about people hanging out and loitering there. I’ve had reports that there were people sitting in a group close to the children’s section of the library, cursing, and yelling. This shouldn’t be going on in the library. We’re there to work with the kids, not to be running back and forth to the circulation desk and asking them to shut the people up – that’s not what we’re they’re there for. I’ve seen beverages in the library, and open alcohol at the front where those benches are,” Ms. Milne said. “The week before, we walked through a cloud of marijuana. Marijuana is legal, but it doesn’t belong in a library. I’ve been going to libraries for almost 65 years, and until these last four weeks, I’ve never been uncomfortable, but now I’m not going back with my program because it’s too uncomfortable.”

Ms. Milne made a delegation to New Tecumseth Town Council during a Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 11, and presented her concerns and requests.

However, she did not get a sympathetic response from Council regarding the issue as they consider the library to be a safe space, and say there have been no other reports of patrons feeling unsafe at the library.

Deputy mayor Stephanie MacLellan, who is also a member of the Library Board, was especially vocal about her opposition to the claim that the library is unsafe, saying she has investigated claims and found no basis for unsafe behaviour at the branch.

“There’s a very large difference between feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe,” Ms. MacLellan said, directing her comments to Ms. Milne. “I would like it to be known that no one ever reported anything to staff at the library. From an exhaustive investigation that I’ve done, I feel as though you missed a few steps, because you went straight to Facebook, and you made it this awful, polarizing, community separating – you waged war on people experiencing homelessness. I think they’re having a tough enough time as it goes. All of these things you claim to have happened, were never once, in the last two months, reported to library staff on duty. Library staff has never witnessed, nor have they ever received, any reports of needles being seen or used, or overdosing people. The cleaners are in there every night – they have never reported finding anything. This situation has been absolutely, 100 per cent, unequivocally, blown out of proportion. I’ve also spoken with the OPP – they’ve never had any calls for service to the library.”

Ms. MacLellan went on to say that misinformation spread through social media posts created an atmosphere of mistrust around the library that didn’t exist.

It was also noted that the library was declared a warming centre for the town, and people were ‘invited’ to be there.

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