What happened to Pack Memorial Library?

When did Pack Memorial Library become a daytime shelter for ex-cons and strung-out drug abusers? Surely, a diverse mix is wonderful and an Asheville tradition, but this is nothing like that. There is no mix of children and everyday families and business people there. All I ever see, daily, are downtrodden, strung-out and scary-looking thugs hanging out on the computers and loitering in the sidewalk areas in front of the library, blocking the nearby storefronts while harassing their potential customers. Why is this allowed?

Since its re-opening, the library has become a magnet at that end of Haywood Street for these dangerous types to go hang out, make their connections and "size up” passersby for [spare change].

With virtually no police presence at any given time, it’s a terrible combination for Asheville citizens who have to work or run businesses on that end of the downtown. Parking in the Civic Center lot and crossing through on the fifth-floor library "walk-thru" has also become a risky venture. I've been chased down the hall a few times in the last few months. It's pretty nerve-wracking.

With the library becoming the new hub for strung-out drug dealers and thugs, why is there no police presence or security outside on the Haywood Street entrance of the library where folks are walking and trying to get to their cars in the Civic Center parking lot? Even a minor amount of police patrolling could help dissuade much of what is happening and act as a deterrent. Why is there virtually none?

After all the library renovations, it's embarrassing for our town to have it rendered unusable and dangerous. Other towns somehow manage to have a library that isn't a hub of danger. Why can't we?

— Jon Roberts
Asheville

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45 thoughts on “What happened to Pack Memorial Library?

  1. HKUSP

    Considering the district office for the Police Department is mere feet away from the entrance to the library, have you thought of walking down there and asking them? I also find it a little hard to believe that the library is overrun with “ex-cons and drug dealers”, but if that is the case, why hasn’t the library called the police?

    I suppose it may be easier to write a letter and complain about a lack of omniscience on the part of others…..

  2. I agree with HKUSP…and by the way, can you tall me how you can identify “downtrodden, strung-out …thugs” simply by looking at them? I guess you have powers of observation that have been denied to others on the planet.

  3. Jim Shura

    I’ve used that corridor twice a day, 5 days a week for 7 years and never had a problem.

    There is a security guard at the entrance. The writer should talk to him if he’s feeling insecure.

  4. Grant Millin

    Today many of us have are no longer looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.

    A modern library should allow free access to everyone. It’s precisely needed as there is a cost to information today. Turning on your home PC, smartphone or pulling down a reference book from your home library assumes a number of things.

    When we call the concept ‘public’ a ‘hub of danger’ it fails to show the many systemic problems associated with pushing ‘undesireables’ and just regular low-income folk out of high-rent downtown AVL.

    It seems that downtown has also become seen as a special sanctuary zone for the wealth class by some. There’s other neighborhood libraries, but they are far from the remaining social services and the mass transit hub. Get used to struggling folk as long as we have the kind of inhumane, unethical capitalism perspectives in play as are the case now.

    Otherwise I’d like to see a COA-community analysis of the Pack Memorial ‘Hub of Danger’ with an accounting of all this ‘criminality’ and B.O.

  5. While I do experience being constantly targeted by “how ya doin M’am?” and when i ignore the obvious panhandling, the obligatory “God Bless” or words to that effect (in a vain attempt to guilt me into submission)….I’ve never experienced any approachment in the corridor.

  6. cwaster

    I have seen some … scuzzy looking people there, but they have never bothered me. Except with body odor. Have been pan-handled a few times outside but the security guard does a pretty good job of keeping them away.

    What bothers me more is screaming babies when I’m trying to read.

  7. Sass panties

    I’d also like to know what qualifies someone as a “scuzzy, strung out drug dealer?” Did you talk to any of those people? Did they try and sell you drugs? Or are you just pulling assumptions out of thin air? I’d also like to know where you’d rather these people go? Somewhere invisible, where you never ever have to look at them, or think about privilege,I’m sure.

    The main problem I have with your letter, is the criminalization of poverty. Not everyone has access to home computers, laptops, or smartphones, like a previous poster mentioned. Shit, not everyone even has access to clean water, and decent food. I think that’s something we forget a lot in Asheville even with our “local food thousands of miles fresher” bumper stickers everywhere.

    When you make assumptions about a person, solely based on their socio economic status, it’s incredibly dangerous because it adds to a culture that erodes the self worth of our fellow human beings, and in this writer’s opinion systemic low self worth is one of the primary causes of all of the ills you so alarmingly speak of, I’d liken being told you are one thing so long, you think that is your only option.

    It also adds to an attitude of criminalization of poverty. I could rattle off statistics about disproportionate sentences in criminal cases along class and race lines, but I honestly don’t know them off the top of my head, but most of us have heard them. Suffice to say, I’m sure a large number of Asheville’s upper class citizens also engage in all the activities you mentioned, they just have homes, and an increasing number of upscale bars to do them in, and fewer whniey baby yuppies to call the cops on them at every opportunity.

    In closing, if you don’t want to see poverty, move to the country, or better yet, to the suburbs. It’s nice and homogeneous there, but probably not statistically any safer, but it sounds like the former is what you are more concerned with.

  8. ashkat

    Unlike the letter writer I frequently see children in Pack library. I hope the mentor helping them is not what the letter writer construes as “a strung out drug abuser”. I know I sometimes feel a bit “strung out” after helping with homework.

  9. bill smith

    [b]When did Pack Memorial Library become a daytime shelter for ex-cons and strung-out drug abusers? [/b]

    When WASN’T it?

  10. Ken Hanke

    I always enter from the parking deck (where I’ve never had a bad encounter), so I can’t really address the front entrance question. I’ve never been accosted in the corridor. Now, I have noticed — on more than one occasion — that there are sometimes gentlemen with a greater personal experience with the law than I’ve had at the movie screenings. (In fact, at the screening of O Brother, Where Art Thou? one complained to his companion — during the scene where the chain gang goes to the movies — that they never took him to the movies when he was in jail.) However, they weren’t a problem, they didn’t panhandle, or much of anything other than watch the movies. I really see no reason why they shouldn’t watch the movies.

  11. JOHN-C

    I think this issue needs attention…

    The library actually “Stinks” sometimes when it’s over run by homeless people, especially when it rains and it’s moist inside…

    Also… I’m not sure how it is now but before the renovations the downstairs bathroom was the nastiest in Asheville, behind only the late Vincents Ear bathroom…

    Clean the library up a bit… I have no problem with the homeless but many don’t respect other people…

  12. dpewen

    The letter writer is over reacting and is not very compassionate. I never see things he describes and I think he is very confused … perhaps he should go to another library if he is so offened by the downtown public.

  13. I’m being serious….this topic taps into my inner right wing which I try to keep under control… Then there is a part of me that believes parents should pass a parenting skills test before having children. But that’s off topic…so never mind.

  14. dpewen

    All of these “undesirable” people get library cards like all of us … that’s all that is needed to use the public facility. They cannot afford computers and internet charges to leave them alone!

  15. bill smith

    [i]The problem with public libraries and parks?—they’re public.[/i]

    It’s true. We have de-funded so much our our infrastructure that the ‘homeless’ used to use (mental health institutions, shelters, etc), that they are now relegated to the two last vestiges of Public Space in the US-parks and libraries.

    [i]All of these “undesirable” people get library cards like all of us … that’s all that is needed to use the public facility.[/i]

    Do you ever actually USE the library dpewen? It’s basically a homeless shelter.

  16. dpewen

    Yup … all the time … plus I volunteer at Ahope, a local homeless shelter. I like most of the homeless people … they are just like you and me.

  17. sharpleycladd

    People who are opposed to public institutions like libraries should not call the police when they’re in trouble or collect unemployment when they’re out of work.

  18. bashmacs

    who is this guy, and what fantasy world does he live in?

    the library, parking lot, and corridor has not “become” anything. it is just as it has always been.

    if you haven’t noticed, there are homeless people that hang around downtown. they have always hung around the library. in fact, I think it’s safe to say that most public libraries in cities are a place that the homeless can go to.

    it gives them access to the internet, which is information, which ultimately is what will help them move forward in their lives. so what’s wrong with that?

    are these “ex-cons” and “strung-out drug abusers,” by your observations, mugging you? inflicting any sort of physical harm? no. they’re not.

    sorry to say that Asheville is far from the utopia that you may imagine it to be. that said, it’s no surprise that there is a diverse population hanging around at a downtown library.

    I go to this location quite often, and have before many times before the renovations, and it’s just the same. I’ve never felt unsafe, and I’m a young single white chick, at that.

    at most, it seems that this guy is just bothered by the site of homeless, “ex-cons,” and “strung-out drug abusers” and accepting the fact that these people exist in his world, when he’d rather just not think about it or address it.

  19. Athena

    What I think is funniest about this whole conversation is everyone assuming the stinky people are homeless! I have been to several places in Asheville where the crowd was riper than average, and trust me, they weren’t homeless.

    …on second thought, I did giggle when I picture the author of the article running down the hallway in terror… his business shirt coming untucked and his briefcase hitting his legs, as someone 20-30 years his senior hobbled after him…maybe even shaking a cane, or a tin cup…

  20. roberts

    I wrote the original letter. I would like to say that you’re all correct and i very much appreciate your compassion. Apparantly, however,i must have left out important items that would help to clarify.

    First of all, i understand the difference between down-and-out and dangerous, and i am compassionate towards others. I’ve lived in big cities, so i’m not insulated and “white-washed”. I love diversity. I am bohemian and frequently let myself look downtrodden. I have, also, been “in need” at times in my life so i respect others who may be in that place. I don’t judge based on a “look”.

    What i do judge on is “actions”. When a person comes after me in a physical dangerous way to ensue a chase – after i’ve declined to give them money – i “judge” that. When a person/s follows someone around in a public place “un-invited” i judge that. When a person waits in a public/library restroom to harass women that come in – i judge that. When a person is physically fighting and screaming death threats at another causing passerby’s to feel in danger and to run into any nearby store for cover – i judge that. When a strung out person is screaming at their own reflection and banging their head on the glass they’re looking into – i judge that they need professional help, and should not to be left roaming the library and it’s adjacent store neighbors. Yes, These folks do need help.

    Where is the help?? If we’re such a “compassionate” town, then where is the compassion in letting them deal with life by convening at the Library. Businesses and bystanders downtown have rights, too. It seems that you have zero compassion for them. They, also, deserve the right to earn their livings and put food on their tables, without feeling in danger or having their business/lives put in danger. You folks are on the right track with your responses, but you’re being completely one-sided with your compassion. Are you out there helping these people you’re concerned about.

    I’m sorry that i did not make it clear the first time around. I’m not talking about folks who “look” downtrodden. Yes, folks who look downtrodden convene at the library, too. However, they are not the issue. If a person is endangering others, i don’t care if they’re white and carry a briefcase, they need to be monitored.

  21. dpewen

    Your response is much different than your letter … apparently the respones were more than you expected.
    You have seen lots of problems … I have not.
    And I am one of the ones who helps … by giving money and my time. I doubt Mr. Smith can match that.

  22. sharpleycladd

    I, too, often remove my blue oxford shirt and sperry loafers, and give up shaving for, oh, days on end.

  23. Jim Shura

    Jon,

    I own a business on that block and I’m friendly with the people who own the businesses that are adjacent to, or across the street from the library. None of us have any idea what you are talking about.

    Register and send me a PM if you need to be escorted through that hellish corridor. Stop running and you’ll be just fine.

  24. Melinda

    I feel bad for the person who wrote the original letter. Everyone here seems to be completely confrontational towards him. Argumentative, in fact. Although, i guess these forums seem to attract that, sadly. I’ve seen a bit of what he’s talking about and i’m not downtown that much. If he’s there a lot then he’s probably seen more of it. Who are we to call him a liar, really. Particularly, without having any idea what he’s personally experienced. He’s, simply bothered by his experience. Does everyone have to labeled a liar? This ain’t the Jerry Springer show.

  25. Jim Shura

    True Blue Art Supply. I park in that garage every day. Maybe it’s my timing, but I’ve only seen blood in that hallway once, and it was self-inflicted.

  26. melinda

    Mr. Yuck,

    You need to get to know your neighbors better before speaking on their behalf. I shop at a couple of the shops near the library (where you’re describing) and they have told me similar stories to the letter writer’s report. So…

    It’s good to give an honest report of your personal experience, but it’s just not cool to call other people a liar if their experience has been different from yours. It only incites more of the “Jerry Springer” effect in forums like this.

    Asheville is a nice community that is accepting of others, even if they had a different experience of something than you did. Try reaching out to these people instead of being confrontational and contrary and condescending, without gathering some information first.

    Just a thought… Be nice. It’s a good approach for the future.

  27. dpewen

    Wow melinda … I just reread Mr. Yuck posts and he did not call anyone a liar … I am not sure what you see when you read. It seems you have the Jerry Springer syndrome.
    I live downtown and have not seen the problems described by the letter writer … I also volunteer at Ahope and can insure you the homeless people are not the problem.
    I am also appalled by the lack of compassion shown by many residents downtown and business owners … very sad indeed.

  28. Jim Shura

    I’m pretty sure most of Melinda’s post wasn’t directed at me. Maybe a comment was deleted and she was responding to that.

    Seven or eight years ago, I couldn’t sit on the bench in front of the Frog Bar without getting solicited. I think things are better now.

    A little off topic: Anyone know if that was Cowboy who got hit by the truck in front of Mayfel’s on Friday afternoon?

  29. melinda

    Dpewen,

    You’re completely missing the point. I give up.

    No one’s talking about the homeless being a problem.

    You have a one track mind.

  30. Big Al

    Most of the inappropriate activity and behavior that I have noticed around Pack Library went away after the benches were removed from out front. They seemed to give panhandlers a convenient excuse to park themselves in the path of patrons of the library and parking deck. Good call, CoA.

  31. uh-oh

    Fear not. While the main library was closed with all of their books locked up and employees farmed out to branches twiddling their thumbs, instead of shipping books in stock that were ordered out to the branches I discovered I didn’t need to hassle with going downtown. Bless all of you people who still have or want to go there. And if the bathrooms smell bad, be sure the floor drains have water in the trap.

  32. Lasereye

    OBSERVATION: Do we really need public library’s in this day and age? The library, as it exists today, has become an antiquated idea whose time has come and gone. The Library of Congress has been digitizing books for quite some time now – making them available online – not to mention the Amazon’s Kindle – down loadable book reading device.

    Our elected officials might want to consider looking ahead in finding a pair of future-seeing-glasses to realize saving taxpayer dollars – making digital books available to all citizens by placing them on-line for citizens to read wherever they want. Think of the money you will save! No building overhead – greatly reduced cost of operations, greatly reduced operational logistics and staffing cost.

    Why is it our local government is not more progressive and forward thinking when it comes to saving tax dollars to make a service more accessible to its citizens – even the homeless?

    HINT: here’s your chance Asheville Buncombe County to get-out-of-the-box with some creative thinking in realizng this paradigm shift in spending tax dollars which garners the biggest bang for the buck!

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