Get the Funk Out

Dallas leaders often cite Houston as a city with ideas worth copying. Houston has a strong-mayor system, for instance, and its local government corporations and municipal management districts--private/public entities used to redevelop neighborhoods--are considered by some a pattern for redeveloping Dallas' downtown.

Now comes this little gem: banning BO. Last week, the Houston City Council passed a prohibition on "offensive bodily hygiene that constitutes a nuisance to others" in the city's libraries.

To be fair, Houston didn't come up with the idea. In March, authorities in San Luis Obispo County, California, passed a similar rule. Others have been adopted elsewhere, and some have been successfully challenged in court. In Houston, the rule is part of a group of regulations that also prohibits sleeping in the library and restricts smoking near entrances and eating inside. They're pretty clearly aimed at street people, though it's not likely anyone with the Houston public library is going to admit that. "The new library rules address specific behavior," says public relations manager Sandra Fernandez, not a specific population. Before you roll your eyes, remember we're talking about Houston here, where the humidity hovers around 140 percent, so it may not be just the homeless who are smelly.

Buzz asked Fernandez how they plan to enforce the rule. "We do it as tactfully and courteously as possible," she says.

What about, um, "transient odors," i.e., that burrito that doesn't sit well? Or how about the man who thinks half a bottle of Axe body spray makes him studly? (We suggest jail time.) It's all a question of whether your fellow patrons' eyes are watering. That's pretty subjective, and therein lies the problem.

Dale McNeill, public service administrator for the Dallas library, says they've considered a similar rule but have been told by city attorneys that without an objective standard, it's not likely to pass a constitutional smell test. (Rim shot.)

"It's a very difficult situation," McNeill says. The library strives to be a welcoming place for all kinds, "from the millionaire to the street person," he says, so it can't be too hard on those with hygiene issues.

Even if they're rich.

Luckily for Dallas, the city's Day Resource Center for the homeless is a few blocks away, so librarians can direct street people there.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams