by Robin Latta – Coalition For People
The Coalition For People was in the habit of meeting once a month in a cozy niche of the New Haven Free Public Library (Ives branch) for decades. One fall day in 2016, however, Mary Johnson, our elderly but forceful organizer/leader, declared that the library’s bathrooms were consistently in atrocious condition and “could we please meet elsewhere?”
Our following meetings were at Mary’s house, and we let the library know why its space was no longer suitable for our meetings. We learned the maintenance of the bathrooms was subcontracted out to a private company. This was the case in other City buildings as well, which angered us as these are jobs that should be done by City union employees.
That was the beginning of the changes to come… Upon further investigation, two members of the CFP team discovered no handicap accessible bathroom on the lower floor, while the potentially mobile metal sign standing in the front of the alcove of the handicap accessible bathroom on the main floor was perennially poised to deter entrance. The sign read “OUT OF ORDER.”
We knew the building was an older building and probably out of date, but we never realized the other “forces” at work. When we asked for an explanation of the sign, we were told that it was put there to avoid “hanky panky” in the bath-room. Upon further investigation, our “Supersleuth” found evidence of a prior handicap accessible bathroom in the women’s bathroom on the second floor that had actually been converted into an “inaccessible” stall.
When City Hall and the library were unresponsive to our pleas for accessibility, we finally made an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] complaint which has been handled regionally through the Boston office. Currently, it has been placed in the hands of a lawyer who actually lives in Connecticut. Since the library and the City were given 180 days to “clean up its act,” their time was up on March 12, 2018.
We are saying all of this because of the stated excitement of the possibility of new renovations. We are sincerely hoping that everyone will benefit from those renovations, including the most underserved populations. (“I could have built a house by the time it took to fix the bathrooms” … so said one librarian, “and a garage.”)
But signage continues…one way or another. Now a big sign in the vestibule of the front entrance is posted and its reading “disallows” people coming in with more belongings than will fit under their seat. Is this a thinly veiled way of saying the homeless are unwelcome? Maybe instead, the library could (especially with new renovations) actually provide adequate accommodations for belongings.
Further, if the library is intent on making up new signs, maybe it could remind people that they are being surveilled inside the library by inconspicuous surveillance cameras. Even though it may be legally permissible to do so, some of us might feel intruded upon. So, folks…keep your eyes open when you use the New Haven Public Library and watch for the signs….