Letting The Homeless Congregate In The Lobby of The Public Library Is Not The Answer
I remember the warmth of my mother’s hand as she guided me up the marble steps leading to enormous metal doors. I was about five, on my way to the children’s reading room for story-time. I couldn’t wait, I was so excited.
I was enchanted as we entered the beautiful foyer leading to a large central lobby. The ceilings were at least twenty feet high with huge, brightly lit sconces, illuminating the space. There were books everywhere, in bookcases along the walls and on free-standing structures in every room. It was a reader’s wonderland.
Towering oak card catalogs were positioned around the perimeter. In each drawer, there were index cards with book information. The cards were attached to long metal rods allowing you to move the cards back and forth.
After school I would take the city bus downtown and spend hours there. After finishing my homework I’d stand at the card catalogue flipping through the many reading possibilities. Little did I realize then, this would be the beginning of my never-ending love of libraries.
Many years later, owning a business, I had less time to spend at the library, so I began buying books. When the books started to implode in my home, I realized many were not keepers. That’s when I began to frequent libraries again.
Around 2018, something changed downtown in the main branch. Homeless men congregated in the main entrance foyer during the day. They also sat at tables in the main room, with all their belongings in garbage bags sitting beside them, many resting their heads on tables. My first thought was, “how humiliating for them.”
Men would sometimes bathe in the public restrooms. I think I’ll let you use your imagination here. Many men glared at library patrons walking by while others bowed their heads humbly as women walked in with their children for story-time.
Library staff and patrons walked a scary, fine line every day. A few librarians told me the head librarian chose not to push the issue for fear of agitating loud protesters who gathered on the steps.
The arguments of protestors were well-meaning but their requests for the homeless were a Knee-Jerk reaction. They screamed, “Put the homeless in the cafe, the library doesn’t need a cafe.” What they failed to understand is the library is not a homeless shelter. Their requests were disrespectful to library patrons, staff and the homeless.
Giving the homeless respite from the cold or heat is humane, but until the city comes up with a better solution, and the library decides to allow them to congregate they should be given a private room or other resting place. A place away from public scrutiny.
Homeless men and women need a small space to live in, with locks for their safety. A place that is theirs to wash-up and prepare their food. A place where medical staff can check-up on those who need medications. Mothers with children need a safe place to care for them while they heal from the trauma of homelessness to work on a better life.
Giving them a temporary small home would restore their dignity while they prepare to make life changes. Then they can use the library facilities as they were intended. Librarians and staff would be happy to help them.
Many cities are building tiny and small houses for the homeless with great success. Sadly, the majority of cities are putting band-aids on this hemorrhage. They’re asking the public to deal with this heartbreaking issue. The public is sympathetic but also angry. Walking down any street in the city is like walking a gauntlet. It’s heartbreaking to watch people beg for money.
I inquired why this practice was being allowed. Some librarians told me the library is a free public space, all are welcome, but shared, sometimes they feel unsafe. Their concern is that many of the homeless are receiving psychotropic drugs.
I mentioned this to my friend, who is a psychiatric nurse. Liz recounted a recent incident she experienced. “I administer medications to this population Lu, be cautious.”
“I went into a homeless facility to administer medication. As I walked up the stairs, a woman came at me holding a knife; its large blade catching the sunlight making it all the more terrifying. I put the tray of medicines over my heart and vital organs to protect me, and luckily I calmed her down. This woman was the last person I would expect to exhibit this aggressive behavior.”
Letting the homeless sit in the foyer and in the library proper is not respectful to them or the patrons.
I have no idea if this will change when the libraries reopen after the Covid lock-down. There is a new library administrator, my hope is they will find a solution beneficial to the homeless, the library staff and patrons.
Thank you for reading