I was walking around downtown one day this summer and popped into Pack Memorial Library and pulled out my laptop. My eyes got tired, and I laid my head down on my closed laptop for a few minutes, only to be startled and awakened by a library security guard shaking my chair and telling me I could not sleep in the library.
So I asked the director of the Buncombe County Library system, Ed Shearing, if there was some problem with me having my tiny personal space between my face and my laptop computer. He told me that informing patrons of this rule — "no sleeping," which is posted as you enter the library — is actually the most effective tool the library has to keep it from becoming a "day shelter."
I guess I didn't read the sign ("Do this, don't do that; can't you read the sign?" — if you remember that song).
Actually, there are at least two shelters and a day shelter (where you go and they throw you out of your shelter early in the morning) about a half mile from the library. There's also a multistory apartment building where poor people live next to Asheville Middle School, and I am sure there are many family-are homes within a mile of downtown.
People with severe persistent mental illnesses (SPMI) commonly take a lot of medication. Much of that medication makes them sleepy and subdues psychotic or mood-disorder symptoms. I might imagine that mentally ill people try to find a place — anywhere comfortable — to sit downtown. This is a real problem, and people who live here appear to be comfortable with citizens' rights being violated — as long as it's not their rights.
If you've been thrown out of the shelter early in the morning, and if the police won't let you sit in Pritchard Park and talk to your friends (there are often police cars next to the park), where should one go to simply sit down?
I appreciate that downtown Asheville has as an agenda to stay clean and tidy. I get that Asheville makes a lot of money on tourism. I don't get why I can't lay my head down on my books or laptop in the library and why a security guy thinks he can shake my chair and startle me.
When I was an undergraduate and working full-time to put myself through college, it was not uncommon for me to go to the college library, read some, put my head down and take a nap, and awaken in order to continue my task.
Why the county libraries should be any different is beyond me.
There are a lot of homeless people in Asheville. Many locals do not realize it until they interface with this in relation to social work or mental-health services.
Recently, seven Asheville police officers stomped into one of my client's apartment and demanded he show them where he had stashed his marijuana. He quickly pointed to his pockets, and they took away his less-than-an-ounce stash. He didn't get read any Miranda rights, and given that he was living in Section 8 housing, he was within one month thrown back into a family-care home. They take 95 percent of his Social Security disability check, and he doesn't have people banging on his Section 8 housing door asking for a hit any longer. Yes, he deserved the opportunity to run his life straight into the ground — just like you or me.
Is this what the price is of being disabled? No rights? Security guards shaking your chair? Police officers marching into your apartment?
Do you think you would be willing to put up with this? We know the answer to that. And that is why I wrote this commentary.
[Marsha V. Hammond is a psychiatrist who lives in Asheville and blogs at http://madame-defarge.blogspot.com/.]