Thursday, May 3, 2007

Gimme Shelter

The Gimme Shelter Workshop is an area of interest to me, since I heard about WPL and the issue of homelessness and the lawsuit last summer. It will be interesting to hear from the people who were involved. I do not work in an urban setting, but am curious to know what the complex issues are, and what are possible solutions for serving "all the people".

Shelly Q felt that this was an timely issue, questions had been raised, so she wanted to address this in a workshop.

The panelists are:
Jim Greene, Commissioner, City of Boston Emergency Shelter Commission
Penny Johnson, Director of WPL
Mary Frances O'Brian, BPL

Jim is speaking first, summarizing the subject of homelessness since the '80's, nationally and regionally.

Libraries are a refuge, they are safe, quieter than shelters. Books are a source of comfort to them.

He quotes Carl Sagan, Hubert Humphrey and LadyBird Johnson, John Steinbeck, Norman Mailer, Estger Hautzig of the Endless Steppe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ross MacDonald, Paul Simon, Andrew Carnegie
with some great quotes about books, libraries, homelessness.

Library is not a luxury, but a necessity.
He compares shelters to libraries and speaks about lack of government advocacy for the homeless.

Here's some tips:

document problem behaviors of special patrons who become problem patrons
share your concerns to supervisors and security staff
enforce rules firly and consistently
be alert to signs of agitation, illness, etc.
Refer suspected illicity activity to securty staff
Trust your gut - if you think something may be out of sorts, it probably is
Assess. Discuss, Consult, Plan
Know your local Outreach providers
plan intervestion with DMH workers if possible, and the police

not enforce the rules
look the other way because you believe the person to be homeless
get in over your head with special patrons
establish personal or non-library related rapport

Easier to stop at the threshold, than trying to get out later.

He suggests we visit a homeless shelter to get a better sense of why our library is so inviting.

He talked about people who were chronically homeless; people without shelter year-round.
He talked about their resourcefullness, independence and resilency, and challenged us to look at these as strenghts rather than weaknesses.

Of 243 people defined as chronically homeless most found resources to get them off the street.
Caveat; these folks still love the library. The library is an important resource for them.

He also spoke about youth at risk, and gave a plea for partnerships, and acknowledged our support.

He took 40 min. of the presentation.
Then he turned this over to MF O'Brian.
She spoke about the challenges to urban libraries:

"Free to All" remaining true to this statement.
Large urban libraries are especially challenged.
There is constant tension or balance between patron populations.
Anyone who resides in the Commonwealth can get a BPL card.
They need to verify MA address.
Is there a means of communication with the patron?
Anyone can register for a courtesy card.
Limit service if overdues.
Fallen library patrons, afraid that they would be charged hundreds of dollars for overdues, now have an amnesty program to negotiate a new slate.
Public perception is that we allow too many different populations in our libraries.
Policies should be administered fairly and consistently.
We owe people honesty, dignity, respect, fairness, choices, windows of opportunity.
We are all but a step away from can happen easily.
The well prepared staff is more effective.

This was a fascinating workshop.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Thanks for coming to our program. For anyone who wants more information about how the library community can addresss these issues I would like to point you to the SRRT Hunger and Homelessness Task Force at

See below from their website:
In 1990, the American Library Association adopted Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor.

This “Poor People’s Policy” was developed to ensure that libraries are accessible and useful to low-income citizens and to encourage a deeper understanding of poverty’s dimensions, its causes, and ways it can be ended.

In 1996, members of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) formed the Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force to promote and implement Policy 61 and to raise awareness of poverty issues.

* mounted major conference programs
* secured policy-support from ALA Presidential candidates
* initiated a SRRT resolution on poverty-related subject headings
* distributed resource information
* encouraged the ALA Office for Literacy & Outreach Services (OLOS) Advisory Committee to create a Poverty Subcommittee
* published a first-ever statement on class and libraries in American Libraries
* and inspired the publication of Poor People and Library Services (McFarland, 1998), edited by former task force chair Karen Venturella.

Shelley Quezada