Monday, June 30, 2008

Libraries as Homeless Shelters

If you ever wondered why public libraries have so many homeless people, read this article by the former asst. director of the Salt Lake City Public Library. Strange to think that chronic homelessness is found even in Mormon territory. His thoughts at the end on how homeless people are a symptom of a broken society are worth considering.


  1. Pretty thorough. What do you think the best approach to this problem is? Also, do you have homeless at your library? - H

  2. i have never wondered why there are homeless people in public libraries. the library is warm (or cool), clean, safe, has chairs to sit on, restrooms without long lines, and if one can read, has free entertainment. plus it's quiet. what's not to like?

  3. Of course we have homeless at the library where I work - not many, because you mostly need a car to get there. One guy always came in smelling of woodsmoke, so we figured he camped out in the woods a half mile away. He was always so gentlemanly, and I once heard him playing a harmonica under my office window. Could break your heart. Haven't seen him in over a year.

    I don't know of a solution to this problem. The homeless often are the abused or addicted or mentally ill or just plain stubborn about their independence. Help the ones that want help and love the ones that don't?

  4. I think your point about *wanting* help is key. When the article talked about providing stable housing, I wondered how much free will the residents would be able to exercise, and if caring for them might mean confining them in times of psychotic episodes, for example. And that is where I think it would get tricky, because would that be viewed as providing care or violating their rights? I can't imagine a funded housing situation that wouldn't have some house rules that residents may or may not agree with. How would you get the mentally ill to abide by them and not just take off or be kicked out? That is not to say there aren't many people who would greatly benefit from a stable housing solution. I'm just thinking through some aspects of the idea. - H

  5. Incidentally, my belief is that homelessness is not something that can be treated directly. I believe the real solution lies in closer, more connected communities. From what I've read the local community in general has become quite eroded from what it was, maybe just as recently as the last half century, and there used to be better connections at the family and neighborhood level. If that were restored, and support resources for people in all situations were prioritized, maybe we could prevent the life and substance abuse crises that lead to an individual's complete breakdown. Obviously, this is an exponentially broader project, but that's where I think homelessness could be truly reduced, through prevention essentially.

  6. barring cases involving those with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses, there are simpler solutions to homelessness than most people want to think about: 1) let someone who is broke live with you until they are back on their feet financially 2) offer to take . someone who is jobless to the nearest decent clothing store and buy them a suit (men's or women's) and good shoes and a good bag/briefcase 3) give someone a no-interest loan for an indeterminate period to be repaid IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, but not necessarily 4) lay off the judgmental b.s. about "he/she is a drunk/addict/just lazy/worthless/the cause of his/her own problems/can't handle money/, etc. etc. etc. I've benefitted at times from all of those kinds of love in action.

    in places where "family" means more than "the gathering of those we approve of," i'd say the problem of homelessness is almost nonexistent.

    it's endemic here in the capitol--home of those we have entrusted with the care of this nation and its citizens.


What do you think?