Chronic Homelessness: Libraries Are “Shelters” For Our Homeless
According to the National Alliance To End Homelessness (2013), at least 250,000 families are homeless. The National Center On Family Homelessness reports that 1 in 45 kids, or 1.6 million, are homeless in America. Homelessness is a serious epidemic and the issue is not just about the individual living with homelessness, but society in general.
Recent reports are showing an increase in the mentally ill and homeless population utilizing libraries as temporary shelters during the day when public traffic increases on the streets. As a result, many librarians question whether this pattern will cause frequent visitors (children, teachers, classes, families, individual, etc.) to avoid coming to the public libraries for fear of being assaulted or victimized, offended, or inconvenienced. Sadly, libraries are safe havens, warm in the winter and cool in the summer when streets are dangerous, threatening, uncomfortable, and lonely.
There are 3 reasons why this is important for us to think about:
- Lack of treatment and housing programs: De-institutionalization, closing inpatient hospitals in favor of short-term (community or outpatient) treatment, has led to an increase in the homeless population who also suffer from untreated or severe mental illnesses.
- Librarians aren’t safe or experienced: If an individual becomes a threat to patrons, librarians are placed in the middle by having to call the police. As a result, police victimize and criminalize the homeless and disturbed individual. Even more, librarians are not trained mental health professionals and they should not have to control a potentially ill individual.
- Protecting our children: Children and adolescents go to libraries after school and they serve our youth well by providing access to various resources. However, if the homeless or psychiatrically untreated exhibits threatening behaviors, our youth is in jeopardy.
We must remember that the problem is not the homeless or the mentally ill, the problem resides with society, law makers, legislatures, and mental health professionals who continue to allow this “epidemic” to grow. Daily distraction keeps us from seeing this very real problem right before our eyes. It is growing, so what are we going to do?
To find out what you can do for a loved one in this dilemma, visit my site: Anchored-In-Knowledge.
You can also read about the Housing First program here
Ho, V. (2006). New library a haven for homeless. Seattle Pi. Retrieved April 5, 2013, from http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/New-library-a-haven-for-homeless-1221014.php.
Keilman, J. (2009). Public libraries: Poor hygiene might get you tossed out. Chicago Times News. Retrieved April 5, 2013, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-04-13/news/0904120197_1_libraries-hygiene-magazines-and-newspapers.
National Alliance To End Homelessness. (2013). Housing First. Retrieved April 5, 2013, from http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/housing_first.
Hill, T. (2013). Chronic Homelessness: Libraries Are “Shelters” For Our Homeless. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2013/04/chronic-homelessness-libraries-are-shelters-for-our-homeless/