Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Library as Homeless Day Shelter.

A reader posted this as a remark to another post, but it deserves its own post as it touches on something that I've noticed happen over time. The downtown library has become a de-facto homeless day shelter:

"Hi,
Just wanted to voice my opinion about the downtown Dayton "library".
I lived in Dayton for 40 years and was back during the holidays to visit my son and his family. At about 9 am I saw about 80 homeless people waiting for the library to open. My daughter in law says that this happens every day. I asked if they had provisions or programs for these folks, but she said that they have nowhere else to go, and that the library will never ask them to leave, read, or study.

She says that she, as well as many of her downtown neighbors, won't go in, and not just because of the social shelter that it has become. She told me that it is well known that it is a hotbed of drug traffic and, to a lesser degree, prostitution. The overall uncleanliness, both inside and out, is very disturbing.

According to her, though, the hardest thing to see is the low level of staff morale. They seem to feel helpless, and that very few of them seem to enjoy being there at all.

This saddens me, as I know that many levys for the libraries get approved. I wonder what has happened, or how it happened. My daughter in law tells me that those who are able must drive out to the suburbs in order to use a library. To attempt to use the internet or to find a quiet place to study at the downtown library is impossible due to the smell, the noise, and the general discomfort throughout the building.

One of her winter hobbies is genealogy, and says that there is an outstanding Local History area, but to get from the research area to the one usable room, she has to nearly crawl over people are in there sewing, ironing, playing cards, eating, and sleeping. I can't understand what has happened. I see the attempts to revitalize my home town, and admire the improvements and serious efforts of my old friends and neighbors, but this is an affront and embarrassment to the city.

Has this been addressed in your local paper? What can my son and his family do, as citizens, to increase awareness about this? He says that he has seen some elderly security people at the door, but that they seemed to be dozing off.

I just wanted to get this off of my chest and I sincerly hope that the city can come together to save this institution (as well as the beautiful Arcade!) Many thanks,
K. Carter"

And thank you K Carter. When I first moved to Dayton I frequently used the downtown library and one of the things I recall from back then, in 1988/89/90 was that it was no where's near as overrun by the homeless as was the Sacramento libary (where I used to live). Now it has become just as bad.

I use the history room and the geneology section quite a bit to research local history. The local history room is a haven, but sometimes it's tough to find a place to work in the basement geneology/periodical section what with the homeless camping out at tables and carrells (they are peacefull, though).


I do recall hearing this past summer from a retired librarian that the library board was thinking of moving the downtown library to a new facility at the UD NCR site. This might be a good solution to the homeless problem as it removes the library from Cooper Park, which is sort of a homeless hangout.


15 comments:

D. Greene said...

well, I have never felt threatened or unsafe going to that library, and I have a book from there checked out now.

If people don't like it, they can just go south a few miles to Wright Library, the homeless are too poor to get to Oakwood, and even if they did, the cops would run them out of town before anyone would be able to offer them helpful assistance of any kind.

A great system we have in America.

Anonymous said...

Oh, please. I live near the downtown library and was just there recently. It was absolutely not overrun with homeless people, and if there were any homeless people there, they were behaving themselves just as well as any other patron and were therefore invisible to me. I have NEVER seen anything that bordered on suspected drug activity or prostitution. I've been going to that library since I was in junior high!

Now, yes, there have been times that it seems like there are a lot of homeless people inside, but one could assume this is more prevalent in the winter months. Please remember that homelessness does not equal criminal activity! Please ALSO realize that library use is for EVERYONE! I would venture to say that there maybe should be some kind of loitering provision, but if someone simply has nowhere to live but honestly wants to spend his or her day reading... what's wrong with that? Should the honest poor be cast out?!

Bill said...

I did a post on this a while back: http://daytonblogs.mostmetro.com/dayton_topics/2007/01/sanctuary_in_th.html

Here are a couple of related articles:
http://www.utne.com/2007-01-01/SanctuaryintheStacks.aspx
http://www.sfweekly.com/2006-12-27/news/don-t-book-em/

Libraries serving as daytime homeless shelters is an issue in most major cities in the country. Library administrators are limited as to what they can do to curb this, since after all - they are public buildings and who is to say that somebody who doesn't have a home can't spend time in a library?

I live directly across the park from the downtown library, and though I don't spend a lot of time there I do go in from time to time and I've never had any problems. The people I've seen in there that I assumed were homeless were there reading just as any other patron was. Outside of the library, the homeless are a bit more obvious - but again - I've never felt threatened by any of them. Why? Well, because as the anonymous commenter stated - they are homeless, not necessarily criminal.

As for Cooper Park, I use that park on a regular basis (you can often see me there throwing a Frisbee to my yellow lab Cody), and though I occasionally see an apparent homeless person sitting on a bench - I don't feel uncomfortable. It is a park and it is there for everybody, and as long as people aren't breaking laws or causing a nuisance then they aren't bothering me.

As somebody who is from a major city and has visited several other major cities in the world, I can tell you honestly that Dayton's homeless and panhandling problems (two different things, mind you) are not that bad. Unfortunately there is a significant number of people in this region who would rather ignore and avoid the homeless and less fortunate - even if that means completely avoiding downtown. That is a shame...

Anonymous said...

A little torn...Bill, I agree w/ your sentiment, but as a young woman it seems that every time I go there to do legitimate research, a homeless guy tries to hit on me. Not that that's awful, just uncomfortable.
I have seen the crowd prior to opening...it's pretty impressive.
Libraries serve a very important function in the free exchange of knowledge, and it seems like there should be some way to make sure that's your primary purpose in being there.

Anonymous said...

To the second anonymous (I'm the first one again), I am also a young woman, and anytime I've been hit on by one of the homeless men at the library, I just deal with it the same way I would any other unwarranted male attention and try to be polite but firm or if the person is behaving more like a construction worker, I simply ignore it.

Also, Bill's experience and assessment is incredibly accurate. I reiterate that homelessness =/= criminal. The very fact that a particular homeless person might choose to use the library as their de facto daytime hangout is probably safer for them, not to mention more entertaining and educational. If there is outright illegal activity going on there, then the staff and security guards are perfectly within their rights to tell a perpetrator to hit the bricks. If someone is not being disruptive, however, they have a public right to use the public library. Period. By continuing to be afraid, we are perpetuating negative and inaccurate stereotypes about disadvantaged people that may have no basis in reality and only serve to further segregate and frighten the suburbanites away from Dayton.

I grew up in the suburbs. I moved to the city because I wanted to get away from this lack of understanding of ALL elements of the Miami Valley's cultural groups. And, like it or not, our cultural groups do include a group of homeless people that, as Bill pointed out, is relatively small compared to other urban areas.

Jeffrey said...

>f people don't like it, they can just go south a few miles to Wright Library,<

Not just Wright Memorial but Centerville,too. Two librarys in Washington Twp: no need to go downtown.

I have to agree that I haven't seen any drug use or prositution (and if its going on its pretty discrete): safety isn't the issue.

The issue is more one of appearance and crowding, where people who want to use the library for, say, research, either can't use it due to crowding, or won't use it becuase they don't feel comfortable. The comfort factor was a point of the post I quoted.

The situation is deteriorating, and its noticeable.

We are going to be reaching the point they did in Sacramento, where if one wanted to read a magazine one couldn't because every table in the periodical room was taken up by a homeless person.

I think the solution is to restrict admittance to those with library cards.

Anonymous said...

"I think the solution is to restrict admittance to those with library cards."

But even a non-homeless person must go INTO the library to apply for the card, yes? So there is technically a period of time in a person's life when they don't have a library card. Shall they never be granted admittance? Also, what about homeless people who DO have a library card? What are the requirements of having a card? Must you have a residence? What if they got the card before they were homeless?

This is all just so discriminatory, in my opinion, and to start talking about trying to ban the homeless from the library is a very slippery slope. Do I *like* sharing my local library with people who don't smell like they bathe indoors? Honestly, no. Do I think my attitude is a good, charitable way to feel about my fellow human beings? No, because they have as much right to exist as I do. They have as much right to use a public facility as I do. And as long as I am not being harassed or endangered, I should not care who is sharing the library facilities with me at any given time. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Instead of restricting access to the library, why not fix the homeless problem?

The give-the-homeless-housing solution seems to work, and we're a pilot site for it, from what I understand. When a homless person has a stable place of residence, that lets them deal with any problems they might have, from addiction to psychological problems to lacking a mailing address. Safer than a shelter, to boot.

Anonymous said...

"The give-the-homeless-housing solution seems to work, and we're a pilot site for it, from what I understand."

What is this program and where can we find out more? I assume it has a more official name than just give-the-homeless-housing?

"why not fix the homeless problem?"

Is homelessness the problem here or is it that there is suspected prostitution and/or drug activity? Not that I don't want to fix the homeless problem, because I do, but I would really like someone to provide actual evidence that the library is a hotbed of hookers and drugs. I just strongly, STRONGLY suspect that it is simply NOT.

Bruce Kettelle said...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5223068

Here is one example of giving free apartments to the homeless. I saw it originally on a PBS documentary.

Matt said...

Wasn't there a DDN article profiling a guy recently who moved into housing and turned his life around?

Anyhow, here's an organization advocating this approach to homelessness: http://www.csh.org/.

Jeffrey said...

I'm suprised this post has generated that much interest. I went and looked at Bills links (Utne and SF Weekly), and it looks like there is legal precedence to
where librarys can't restrict access, which has been mentioned in the comments above.

Anonymous said...

The new local homeless-to-housing building is called River Commons up on Helena in Dayton.

Anonymous said...

Housing-for-homeless appening in Seattle:
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/346728_homelessed.html

Anonymous said...

you people are sad. they have just as much right to be there as you. people are afraid of what they don't know.