Looking Dirty

Sparky works at the main library. He enjoys his job (says it is the best job he’s ever been paid to do). He is in charge of the 3-D printing, the sound studios, computer terminals, virtual reality equipment, and the reference desk. This makes his days exciting and entertaining. The only down side is that he has to deal with a few people who don’t follow the rules. You see the library is a very short walk from several homeless shelters. In the winter the homeless come to get warm, in the summer to get cool. The library welcomes one and all as long as they follow some simple rules.
1. Keep your voice down. No yelling, screaming, or playing electronic devices such that other patrons can hear them.
2. No panhandling or soliciting for donations of money, food, or services.
3. No fighting or bullying.
4. No profanity.
5. Shoes and shirts are required.
6. Limit computer use to 45 consecutive minutes per person (you can signup for multiple times on different machines). No pornography.
The last couple of rules are not posted but are more or less enforced. Mainly, children are not to be stalked, followed, or harassed. The other is that personal hygiene must not be an issue in that body odor cannot be so obnoxious as to make other patrons move away or complain.

Sparky had a tough time last week. The library sponsored a community Rap contest where people could perform their original songs. One of the security personnel was hyper concerned that all the bad influences in the area would be coming to the event. He was worried that there would be gang violence. He was wrong. However the event did bring in a larger than usual audience. In that group was an individual who was having some serious hygiene issues. Perhaps it was due to the hot weather, or maybe they decided that the rules at the shelter were too strict, ultimately it didn’t really matter (the why). The result was that there was a large zone surrounding the person where no one could stand to enter. He was asked to leave. He wasn’t happy. After a few unpleasant words, he was persuaded to exit the building.

This causes me internal turmoil. On the one hand I realize that the library must maintain an environment that is pleasant and safe for the patrons. On the other hand I feel that people who have fallen on hard times should be helped instead of just hustled out of the building. I suppose my feelings that something should have been done to assist the person is an outgrowth of my Christianity. Sparky tells me that there are resources available – showers, laundry facilities, etc. at the homeless shelters. The problem is that those wishing to take advantage of their presence must forego alcohol and drugs. Addictions are a horrible problem which has a cascade effect on everyone from the person to the people they meet….

20 thoughts on “Looking Dirty

    1. Like it or not, the homeless population is growing and public institutions are changing to meet the challenge. I’m pretty proud of the way the library handles the homeless that come in. Many are in search of assistance to make online job applications, to apply for assistance, or just to escape the weather. The majority know and follow the rules.

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  1. What would we do if that person were a friend? I think if we approached the situation that way it would have had a better resolution for everyone. People don’t like to be told what to do, but if we asked or requested them in a friendly manner, there would be a connection between the two. Solving addiction is not as easy as saying to forgo the substance, it takes time to get on their feet, I think help should be unconditional. this was a good post, makes us think about our actions when facing someone not so desirable or presentable, I saw a lot of homeless people in NYC and DC, it affected me deeply to see them cold and hungry in winter.

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    1. The security team is very polite. Sometimes too polite. They aren’t law enforcement so if someone poses a threat to other patrons they are the first to call the police. Thankfully that is a rare occurrence. The library is accommodating but there are changes afoot. The library is closing down as of November for a big renovation. I’m not sure what they will do…

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  2. I would assume the man was approached in a gentle manner. When on substances the individual would probably take offense at any manner approached.

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    1. Yes all respect for the person but it was an uncomfortable situation. There was minimal fuss but there is always the potential for the person to have a violent reaction.

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  3. I agree with mrswrangler. I have been reading about some libraries in the NorthEast having serious problems with addicts passing out and the librarians having to understand how to revive them but injection. I cannot imagine most librarians doing this and am sure that years ago they did not see this as part of their job.

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    1. That is an issue but the police have Narcan available and they have an excellent response time when called. According to my husband there haven’t been any problems like that in the last 9 months…

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      1. We done have lots of homeless who do approach us for monies in Florida lately. There is also lots of free help for them if they are able to get there. One time in front of our store, I attempted to help a big woman sleeping on the bench. She didn’t let me but we saw later that a male customer helped her out but she didn’t seem to want help, only monies.

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  4. As a former homeless person, I will add that when you shower, your possessions can and WILL be stolen for resale by those who are addicted. If you know someone you can trust, they may be watchful, but even they can be diverted by someone else while the other person takes the phone, the cash and any gift cards that you get from the agencies that gave them to you. Or, if you have any other jewelry or other resell-able items (tablet, books, watch, even art supplies!), they’ll take those, too. Since the shower time is limited (to avoid sexual assaults) there’s no way you can protect while showering. The best you can hope is that there are some lockers that you can use with locks, but some of these are even broken into before you can come back, dripping.

    There are reasons that they would rather camp out side than mere addiction, when they are weak and vulnerable.

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    1. Thanks for the additional insight – I had no idea. This makes it even more difficult for the homeless to get back on their feet as most employers expect a fairly high level of hygiene – especially when working with the public. I wonder if it would be possible to provide gallon zip-loc bags for personal effects (like phones and other items you wouldn’t want to get wet/stolen) that could be taken into the shower? I’m just thinking out loud…

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    1. Yes. There is a fine line between accommodation and disruption. I think most of the time all parties try to follow the rules and be aware of the impact on others. Sometimes there is just one person who causes a problem. That is when I’m torn. I wish there was some way to ensure safety and provide hygiene stations for the homeless…

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