Libraries Become Temporary Refuge for Homeless

This was one of the those driveway moments on NPR. Everyone should listen to this call in discussion as well as read Mr. Ward’s excellent Op-Ed in the LA Times entitled “Shelters for Dickens, Shakespeare and the homeless.” He touches on many of the issues that impact on the homeless including housing first and the role played by librarians in ending homelessness. It also makes the case that doing nothing to end homelessness results in highly expensive indirect costs.

Libraries Become Temporary Refuge for Homeless

Chip Ward, the former assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, talks about his op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, where he discusses how public libraries have doubled as shelters for the homeless.

To listen click here and then click on the listen button. To read comments on the Blog of the Nation on this topic click here.

The following is the first four paragraphs of the Op-Ed. To read all of the Op-Ed click here.

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.

To read more click here.