Library Looking at Homeless Patrons

The largest drop in shelter in the community is the Public Library system.  Many homeless are dismissed from the shelters in the morning and then are not allowed to claim a bed until the late afternoon.  Those who do not work or are not following up on medical appointments hang out at the library.   They are reading the paper, using the computer to look for jobs or just utilizing the people's university by reading.  The shelters have for years operated on a strategy that homeless people need to be out during the day looking for jobs and housing.  Over the last few years, the county has pushed to reduce services in the shelters, and asking instead that the staff work on housing issues.   They want services to be delivered when the person gets into housing and not when they are in an emergency situation.  A great idea, but unfortunately GED classes, resume building, Alcohol and Drug meetings and mental health treatment are not as readily available in the 40,000 units of subsidized housing in our community. 

The library is looking at issues within the system in the interaction between homeless people and other patrons.   We met with officials as they look at the local landscape to provide better services.  We pushed for a San Francisco style plan in which they have a social worker hired to interact with homeless patrons.  This social worker could set up classes and would have knowledge of the homeless system.  They could help librarians navigate the complicated system of help, and could design programming to move people out of an emergency system.   They could find space for legal clinics or public meetings or for agencies to come in to meet with potential clients throughout the system.

Many of the issues they talked about were community issues and not necessarily homeless specific issues.  We appreciated that the policies are not targeted to homeless people, but any patron using the library system.  Currently, the library has required that large packages and suitcases on wheels must be checked in the front of the library.  They are working to reduce theft from the library which they found stock piles of items in the ceilings of the bathrooms.  There are issues between patrons especially those who have their pictures posted on the sexually based offender website and are using the public library.   They are concerned with library staff interactions with mentally ill patrons some of whom may be homeless.  The staff wanted more information about the homeless system and who to call if they need help. 

The Cleveland Public Library is one of the treasures of the community.  The downtown location is beautiful and blends peaceful places to curl up with a book and the amazing historic architecture.  There is that nice garden spot in between the two buildings downtown.  They have the modern tower along side that old building with wood and archways.  The people in the branch offices are always so helpful and accommodating to rich and poor seeking help.  They all have a firm commitment to free speech and treating all patrons with equality.  We all appreciate the important role the libraries play in our services to homeless people.

Brian Davis

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