NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A new policy set to be implemented by the Rutgers-New Brunswick library system would require library users to present a Rutgers ID card beginning at 10pm each night, effective November 16.
But the policy has some saying it will leave the city's homeless community out in the cold, at a time when shelters are not available.
Officials said that failure to comply when library workers ask a non-student to leave the school's libraries would result in the individual being escorted out of the library by a Rutgers "community service officer."
Community service officers are part of the Rutgers University Police Department, and consist of student volunteers who carry out quasi-public safety tasks.
Students are already planning an action opposing the new policy for the evening of Sunday, November 16, when it is set to take effect.
"If no change in policy is made by Sunday, students can gather at Alexander Library at 10 pm to stand with those being forcibly removed from the libraries," reads a Facebook event with 14o confirmed guests.
"Don't let them do this in your name!" reads the event, geared towards students.
Melissa Just, an administrator at the library system who has been leading this policy initiative, told The Daily Targum that the goal would be to reduce overcrowding at the libraries.
"We are finding the buildings at full capacity," Melissa Just told The Daily Targum, "We wanted to set aside time to ensure affiliates have room to study".
In May 2014, a petition on change.org began circulating calling for the libraries to enforce a system for RUID swipe entry after 10 pm. Many of those signing the petition cited their disatisfaction with the use of the libraries by the homeless populations in New Brunswick, especially during nightime hours.
Titled "Enhance the Safety of Alexander Library by initiating an RUID Swipe system for entry after 10 pm" and started by Mollie Kahn, the petition called on Rutgers to "privatize Alexander Library from 10 pm until 6 am daily by initiating an RUID Swipe system for entry."
"I started the petition in hopes of inspiring a safer environment at our campus library, which is typically open until 2 am," said Kahn. "I hope that the new policy is implemented fairly and respectfully."
The school newspaper, The Daily Targum, also stood behind the policy, taking a more lukewarm stance.
"The problem is that as unfortunate as the issue of homeless throughout New Brunswick is, we simply do not have the room to house people in our libraries', reads the editorial.
"The implementation of this new policy regarding admission into the library does absolutely nothing to address the very real problem of homelessness and poverty the New Brunswick community faces," the newspaper concedes. "But if people who need shelter can’t get it in the libraries, what will stop them from going to the student centers or other open University buildings instead?
Still, many other students and New Brunswick residents expressed concerns that the intention of the policy would be to get rid of homeless people using the library for shelther at night.
"Revolving Church Shelters don't commence until a while after Thanksgiving—-they used to start earlier," said one opponent of the new policy, who added that it "targets the homeless."
A different student-organized online petition launched by Nick Cruz this week seeks to "cancel" the policy.
The petition in favor of a requiring ID cards for entering, which differs from the forced removal policy Rutgers has proposed, garnered 412 signatures in six months. Meanwhile, the petition opposing the Rutgers policy garnered 225 signatures in three days.
Students have also organzied a "Blanket/Warm Clothes Drive", which will call for individuals to donate blankets and warm clothes by dropping them off at the Second Reformed Church on Sunday, November 16.
Harry Glazer, a press officer for the Rutgers-New Brunswick library system, maintained that the new policy was intended to ensure libraries would not suffer overcrowding during the night-time hours, when many students utilize them.
"We want the the students feel like the library is the place for students to do work," Glazer said to New Brunswick Today. "A lot of times students cannot find a spot. They’re gonna sit on the floor, it’s not functional for them".
Glazer also said that the policy would only be in place during "peak hours," and that members of the public would be able to still use the facilities from opening time at 7 am, until the rule kicks in at 10 pm.
He also recommended that the issue be taken up by officials in New Brunswick, and Middlesex County and New Jersey state government entities.
"It’s not something that I think is fair that anyone should think the library should single-handedly solve this issue on their own and address this issue on their own."
A spokesperson for Mayor James Cahill declined to directly address the decision, while Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti did not return a phone call from New Brunswick Today.
"I can't address that specifically, as it's a Rutgers decision, but the New Brunswick Free Public Library remains open for all residents to utilize seven days a week," said Jennifer Bradshaw, the city's Public Information Officer.
New Brunswick Today caught up with Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno earlier this week, and she said she had not heard about the policy change.
"I just heard about it for the first time just two seconds ago so it would be irresponsible for me to have a stance on it right now," said Guadagno "Let's take a look at it though."
Her office has not returned follow-up inquiries.
Coincidentally, Guadagno was in the Hub City to tour the kitchen at the Elijah's Promise Culinary School, located at 211 Livingston Avenue.
For more than two decades, Elijah's Promise has helped feed the hungry in New Brunswick.
Executive Director Jim Zullo told New Brunswick Today that Rutgers faces an interesting challenge in balancing the interests of the students, staff, members of the public, and New Brunswick residents.
Maintaing a relatively neutral stance, Zullo stated in an email that the University should "pull more resources together and cooperate."
"More significant resources from the state and federal government are necessary to support and expand the local initiatives and provide us the tools to make long-term gains to address these issues", Zullo added.
The non-profit's Social Services Coordinator Robert Mason took a more negative stance on the policy.
"Don't get me wrong, I understand," Mason said, “I can understand Rutgers’ position… They are really not using it, they are just there to stay warm.”
But Mason said Rutgers told New Brunswick Today he would not turn a blind eye to the problem, and indicated homeless people are living between Route 18 and the Raritan River year-round, and that living anywhere outside is not be safe.
"Where do our people go?… How do we just turn the blind eye, instead of helping them try to find some services, or render a space that’s available for them?”
Elijah's Promise currently maintains a policy that the temperature must be 20 degrees or lower for the soup kitchen's cafeteria to be turned into a shelter for overnight stays.
New Brunswick has just a handful of other shelters, included the adjacent Ozanam Men's Shelther, which is run by Catholic Charities and often at capacity. Another facility in town, Women Aware, Inc., only serves female victims of domestic violence.