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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Libraries as Temporary Homeless Shelters

Suburban libraries have changed a lot over the years. They are no longer just ultra-quiet places where study, research and academic reflection are hallmarks. Cellphone use is a problem. Internet access has made a difference. So have special programs for rambunctious young children. And after-school tutoring. But one thing hasn't changed much: When the temperature drops, the homeless can be found settling in. Libraries are warm, friendly places. Hence the presence of the down-and-out. This is true even in the most affluent communities up and down the Peninsula. It's been particularly noticeable this month as near-freezing mornings and evenings are the norm. Regular library users have to get used to the reality of the homeless on their turf. These folks often don't have access to daily bathing facilities. Their clothing can be tattered and dirty. They tend to bring their worldly goods with them. You have to learn to read and work around them. Sometimes, that's not all that easy to do. But, in an economic downturn that continues to hammer those on the margins, the dispossessed are here to stay. For them, a heated library can become a temporary home away from home. At least for a few blessed hours a day.

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