Monday, April 02, 2007

Libraries and the Homeless

This situation described in urban libraries is also probably happening here and along with the illegal camping in the Parkway, creates a situation where legitimate users of public resources are driven away from using them.

We are in support of the housing first approach to chronic homelessness (those folks who won’t use shelters and prefer staying on the streets while taking up the majority of public funding support to provide services to them, and who this article is about) and it has been adopted in Sacramento.

Sacramento however, is largely using a congregate housing model which we don’t support as it congregates the homeless in neighborhoods where new housing is built or remodeled for them (usually in poorer neighborhoods already burdened with shelters and group homes) at a higher cost than using a scattered-site approach which places individual homeless people in subsidized apartments throughout the community, reducing the impact on any one neighborhood.

Shelters for Dickens, Shakespeare and the homeless
While we look away, public libraries become warehouses for those living on the streets.
By Chip Ward
Chip Ward was, until recently, assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library.
April 1, 2007

OPHELIA SITS BY THE FIREPLACE and mumbles softly, smiling and gesturing at no one in particular. She gazes out the window through the two pairs of glasses she wears at once. When her muttering disturbs the woman seated beside her, Ophelia turns, chuckles and explains, "Don't mind me, I'm dead." Not at all reassured, the woman gathers her belongings and moves quickly away. Ophelia shrugs. Verbal communication is tricky. She prefers telepathy, she says.

Mick is having a bad day too. He has not misbehaved but sits and stares, glassy-eyed. This is usually the prelude to a seizure. His seizures are easier to deal with than Bob's, for instance, because he usually has them while seated and so, unlike Bob, he rarely hits his head and bleeds, nor does he ever soil his pants.

Franklin sits quietly by the fireplace and reads a magazine about celebrities. He is fastidiously dressed and might be mistaken for a businessman or a professional. His demeanor is confident and normal. If you watch him closely, though, you will see him slowly slip his hand into the pocket of his sport coat and furtively pull out a long, shiny carpenter's nail. With it, he carefully pokes out the eyes of the celebs in any photo.

These may sound like scenes from a psych ward. But in fact, this is the Salt Lake City Public Library, which, like virtually all the urban libraries in the nation, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city's homeless. It's also the place where I was, until recently, the assistant director.