Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Get rid of the homeless"

Heard second-hand from a highly reliable source:
Well, yes, we need a new library. But first, they should get rid of the homeless people.
This is pretty sad, but I'm afraid there are a fair number of people who think this way. It's even sadder in a time when the economy is down, unemployment is up and people are hurting. This is a time when lots of people, including the temporarily impoverished, need public libraries more.

There was a very timely op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
Published: August 9, 2009
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more of it. ...
Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote this piece, provided one of the springboards for our local Project Promise efforts on poverty, when we used her book Nickeled & Dimed for our community read a couple years back. Project Promise believes we can eliminate poverty in the Fox Cities. So is this a way to eliminate poverty? Let's just outlaw poor people -- or at least make 'em stay in places where we never have to notice them... NIMBY -- it's not just a good idea, it's the law!

It's pure discrimination to want the homeless to go away or to use them as an excuse not to support the library. If there are behavior issues that interfere with a good library experience, the staff will deal with them. Some problems at the library may occur from homeless people. Some problems may originate with wealthy people, with mentally ill people, with high-spirited teens or just a regular person having a bad day. We've seen all of these.

We deal with the problem, not with the societal class of the person causing the problem.

The library is for the whole community. We offer opportunities. You can't make it better by denying it to some of those who have the greatest need for our services. It was written that "the poor will never cease to be in the land", and I doubt that meant we should just get them into a different part of the land where we never encounter them.

Fortunately, I don't think most of the community and most of our users feel this way, or we wouldn't be seeing the record use -- from all social strata -- that we're enjoying. But I fear this quiet discrimination, from some in our community, is something we will continually fight. Gandhi wrote that "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

You don't shun or punish the victims. You find ways to give them chances. That's one reason we're here, and whether we every get a new library or not, we need to be true to the goal of providing opportunities for the whole community.


willr said...

Terry - Thank you for posting this and for linking to the NYT piece. In many ways, this is a contributing factor for me personally in why I prefer designing public libraries over many other building types, and libraries in urban environments above others. The need is so great and it has always been important to me that the public library is the one place in many communities that the homeless and jobless can turn to where they are safe and permitted. What has always bothered me is the number of people who don't take advantage of the resource that is their public library because of the presence of the homeless... I have heard this more times than I can stomach. A similar story:
I am working on a project to bring an elderly low-cost housing project to the site of an urban church here in Milwaukee that runs a breakfast program for the homeless. The church is near Marquette. Every so often, the parent of a young college student will call the rector of this church to complain about the homeless being "attracted" to the campus by her program. Her answer? "Why did you send your daughter/son to an urban college in the first place? Why not teach them the realities of poverty and homelessness and let them focus their education on ways to solve the problem - to end hunger and poverty - rather than hiding from it? We have a long way to go.

melodyhanson said...

It was enlightening to see this headline this evening:
especially in light of those "town hall" protests. Sorry, I know you are not talking about health care here, but the sentiment seems to be the same