Dennis Astrofsky is among the dozens of homeless people who consider the Boston Public Library their shelter for the day. Every morning, they sleep on the streets, in a shelter or places like the Pine Street Inn. The next morning, they then line up to be among the first to enter the warmth and safety of Boston’s historical landmark.

“What do you do here?” I ask Dennis, a fifty-five-year-old man introduced to me by a social worker who works with the homeless at the Boston Public Library. “I don’t do anything,” says Dennis. “I’m hanging out, talkin’ to the guys, we come here to get warm, use the bathroom, clean up – this is like a safe haven for us. “

Dennis says fifty to one hundred people live here each day. And most follow an unspoken code.

“You don’t start no sh*t here…the alcoholics scream and holler…but we’re not stabbing each other or shooting or knife fights. We don’t have that. We have a sense of loyalty to the library. If we have a problem, we take it outside.”

Dennis says his problems began way back when he was a kid growing up in Charlestown. He used to sneak out of his house at night to hang out with the older kids. His first big run in with the law was in 1982, when he was tied to a break in at a Boston bank.

“They arrested us and put it all over the news. Was a nightmare. They brought me to a Roslindale secure DYS facility. I was a juvenile at the time. That was the start of the nightmare I’ve been going through for 39 years.”

Dennis says he has spent time in 37 penal institutions around the United States. There were so many incidents that he can’t remember them all, however; he says he’s trying hard not to go back. During our conversation, Dennis never blames anyone but himself for his failings, but he does say no one guided him. And any potential for success in school was sabotaged by learning issues. He did fall in love once and married the woman he met in prison. But when she died of aids, he was a wreck.

He himself has a myriad of health issues. He says he has Hep C, cancer and HIV.

“I’ve had the virus for 25 years. I got it shooting up in jail…this was in the Dedham house of correction. We’d go to the gym, get an eye dropper and a pin (basketball pump) and shoot up. That’s how I got the virus and we pass it around to each other. There is drugs in every institution in the us. You’ll never stop that.”

Dennis’ rough past is illustrated by the 17 bullet holes in his chest. He says he doesn’t do this often, as he pulls up his shirt and shows me.

He seems mostly content now. He works in demolition when the jobs are there, and he proudly flashes hundreds of dollars he’s made. He’s grateful to a myriad of agencies who either treat his medical issues or provide food. He can get a good meal at the local churches and from “Dan the Bagel Man” who puts out a spread in front of the library every day at 5 p.m. Sleeping at a shelter is a last resort for him, as his tattoos make him a target for violence. Instead, he and others sleep outside on cardboards; their conjoined body heat and a few hand warmers act as blankets.

“We all know each other. We all know who the players are. We’re just trying to survive. We are a community. We take care of each other on the streets. “