Make Yourself at Home

Want to know why the city is making plans for the homeless downtown? Visit the library, but don't take the kids.

"It will have computers that people can use to access the Internet. There will be more washers and dryers, more restrooms. Restrooms will be open 24 hours," she says. "This time we have a lot more information about who the homeless are than we did in 1988, and other cities have done this. We should be able to actually do something to help out at the library."

Cities such as Baltimore have invited social service agencies into libraries, and others, like Seattle, are about to embark on campaigns to convince voters to do almost exactly what Dallas is doing. Andra Addison, communications director for the Seattle Public Library, says there is an effort under way to finance a men's center that would have computers and showers and be open for long hours. They are hoping that would provide an alternative to the library.

"We don't have a day facility for homeless men, and that's really the issue that we find here," she says. "It's difficult, especially if you are in a major city, and there aren't too many places that have their doors open to everyone all the time."

Clockwise from top: Kyle Frey, 44, who describes himself as homeless, rolls a cigarette outside the Dallas public library where he spent a recent Sunday afternoon; a man reads a newspaper on the plaza outside the library--a popular gathering place for the city's homeless; an unidentified man breaks library rules by sleeping and bringing food and drink into the building; and David Maynard, 62, who describes himself as homeless, reads the paper inside the library.
Mark Graham
Clockwise from top: Kyle Frey, 44, who describes himself as homeless, rolls a cigarette outside the Dallas public library where he spent a recent Sunday afternoon; a man reads a newspaper on the plaza outside the library--a popular gathering place for the city's homeless; an unidentified man breaks library rules by sleeping and bringing food and drink into the building; and David Maynard, 62, who describes himself as homeless, reads the paper inside the library.
From left, David Berry, 57, Emmitt Pullen, 55, and Ken Hicks, 55, idle away a Sunday afternoon outside the Dallas central library. The three men say they've spent time on and off the streets of Dallas. At the moment, they say, they are among the on-the-street crowd.
Mark Graham
From left, David Berry, 57, Emmitt Pullen, 55, and Ken Hicks, 55, idle away a Sunday afternoon outside the Dallas central library. The three men say they've spent time on and off the streets of Dallas. At the moment, they say, they are among the on-the-street crowd.

Boudreaux says from everything they've learned and studied in and outside of Dallas, they know for a fact that their city is not unique. From looking at other cities, they have also seen what works and what doesn't. A perpetually open facility is seen as a necessity, she says.

"We're not in uncharted waters," Boudreaux says. "There's a lot of others that have recognized a need for those 24-hour type of facilities."

One homeless man at the library who identifies himself as "A.D." says if the shelter is built at all, it certainly will be far from downtown and worthless to them. But it probably won't be built.

"'It's gonna happen' is different from 'It's happening' or 'It's in the works,'" he says. "That's political talk...We ain't doing shit."


A master plan for the central library was financed by voter-approved bonds in 1998 and released in 2001 and is supposed to guide the library through 2010. The plan discusses in a philosophical sense what the main library branch should represent as the library system's "flagship" and who should want to go there.

"The J. Erik Jonsson Library will become a world-class facility that is both a vital downtown branch and a highly respected research library," the plan says in part. "It will be a reinvigorated cultural center and a major 'destination experience' for the City of Dallas." The central library will also get a boost from the bond package city voters approved this year. It allocates $55.5 million for many libraries in the Dallas library system, including the central library.

When manager McNeill talks as he walks through special areas of the library such as the Shakespeare first folio and the Declaration of Independence exhibit--where a couple were caught having "deviant sex" last year--you can tell he's proud.

He wants the library to assume a prestigious place as a research facility. He beams when he describes what the library has to offer serious researchers. He says he's also pleased that the library can assist the homeless with information that may help them find a place to stay, live or work.

"We're supposed to provide research; we're supposed to provide information; we're supposed to provide entertainment; we're supposed to be a beautiful building that the city can take pride in," he says. "We're supposed to do all of that all at once and welcome the whole community, everyone who wants to come and accomplish all of those things at the same time. That's why it continues to be something that's talked about within our profession and outside because it's a pretty tall order for anybody."

He also readily concedes that the library system's flagship is suffering from an image problem that afflicts most of downtown Dallas. Much of the perception is wrong, he believes.

"I think it is true that there are people who have perceptions either of the library or of downtown in general, and the ones I've talked to it's more that they have perceptions of downtown in general," he says. "They are afraid of aggressive panhandling of the type that I've never seen in Dallas, frankly. More like what you see in San Francisco, where it's a whole different art form than it is in Dallas."

Indiana University's Cronin says he received a flurry of responses from librarians after he wrote a column for the Library Journal that addressed the homeless issue head-on. His commentary, "What a Library is Not," in part said that libraries should be taken back from the homeless because the homeless are harming libraries. He received "nearly 100 percent" favorable response from librarians who said words to the effect that it was about time somebody spoke up. He says it's about time that leaders of the nation's libraries started speaking up publicly, too.

"What is, I think for me, most surprising is the gulf between the kinds of concerns and statements that come out of the professional body, the library association and the actual concerns and problems facing workaday librarians," he says. "It's as if the professional leadership, the professional executive bodies, the professional associations simply are behaving ostrich-like. They don't want to acknowledge that the problem exists. They don't produce solutions. They don't induce common sense. They leave it to, in many cases, the lowest-paid workers in the library system to deal with both the literal and figurative 'shit.'"

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