City Desk

D.C. Libraries: Not a Homeless Shelter, Especially in the West End

Edward Robinson-El came to the West End Library to be its new manager about a month ago. He had managed various libraries around Brooklyn, where he had customers of many ethnicities—Orthodox Jews, Italians, you name it—and income levels. Still, Robinson-El was surprised when he got to the West End Library and found out who his customers are.

Based on what he’d read about his new assignment, he was expecting mostly patrons from George Washington University. But he doesn’t get many college students at all.

Instead, he says, he gets a mix of kids and also young adults after school, parents with babies, and older adults all times of day. And homeless people. A lot of homeless people. Which is fine with him, but not so fine with some other people—we’ll call them the older, richer, whiter members of the neighborhood.

The library is down on 24th and L Streets NW, in that speck of expensive land called Square 37. The land was almost sold off to developers by emergency legislation last July but then in the end wasn’t, although it might be again. On July 18 the West End Library Friends issued a report detailing recommendations they wanted to see in any new redevelopment plans concerning this prime West End parcel.

It’s hard to be shocked by the results of a library report, but the document issued by the West End Library Friends clearly could use some sensitivity training:

There is a strong sense in the community, reflected in survey answers and appended written comments, that the homeless population’s use of the library is a deterrent to greater use by other patrons.…Those who do use the library are older, wealthier, better educated, and less racially diverse than the general population of the District; and, therefore, the collection, programs, and services for this particular branch, like all branches, should be tailored to the population it serves.

These older, richer, and whiter people need more literary fiction recommended by the New York Times, and so the report suggested that the library procure more. Also, these older, richer, and whiter people need fewer self-help books, a genre that the library now stocks up on. The report also rather explicitly states that the library should find ways to rejigger the balance of homeless to non-homeless users of the library:

The West End Library should be open and welcoming to every person who wants to use it. However, the consistent use of the branch as a day center by the downtown homeless population, not unique to the West End, is a major deterrent to other patrons wishing to use the branch. Therefore, the Committee has made and implemented several recommendations that will mitigate the use of the branch by those without a home base. These recommendations rearrange the reading room, brighten the interior and exterior of the building, and suggest programming to attract more of the non-homeless patron.

Here’s what the library’s Friends find so offensive about the homeless library users, borrowing from the report: the “lack of adequate hygiene,” that library patrons feel unsafe among the homeless, and that “the reading rooms and tables are often occupied exclusively by homeless people and their possessions…”

Accordingly, the report seeks an end to “additional homeless programs offered in the library that are unrelated to core library functions.”

Robin Diener, director of the DC Library Renaissance Project, says that the West End Library followed the report by doing what libraries around the country are doing when faced with this same issue: It put blinds on street-facing windows so that homeless people couldn’t sit inside while watching their belongings; it broke up big groups of tables and chairs into smaller conglomerations so that homeless people couldn’t congregate en masse as easily; and it allowed users only a little bit of time on the computers at a time.

These changes all came before Robinson-El arrived, and he says he isn’t aware of any of them. Nor has he read the anti-homeless report. By his account, he’s had a great relationship with the library’s Friends so far—but on a recent Monday, the blinds are up, there is ample group seating, and the average computer time is more than two hours.

There are posters on all the bulletin boards announcing programs—Indian film, Jewish literature. There are booked-up meeting rooms on the library’s top floors—yoga, tango, the Harvard Club, Census Bureau employment testing, an eating disorder group (which met, ironically, on Yom Kippur).

The stacks are full—too full, says Robinson-El; he has to figure out how to get rid of some of the books to make room for new materials—the present selection includes everything from books about the history of Air Force One, several copies of Goethe, a wall display devoted to Studs Terkel, some loose copies of the New York Review of Books, as well as a DVD of Snakes on a Plane on display. There are a fair number of readers around as well, including 15 or so people sitting at tables along the bank of huge windows. One man—African American, as most of the people at the tables along this wall are—has glorious blond hair and is reading a study guide to AP Physics. Another man, older and white, is reading an X-Men comic book. A third man wearing ragged but dapper tweed sits reading the Wall Street Journal.

A lot of the patrons have large satchels of belongings with them. If you had to guess, you’d probably guess a lot of them are homeless. But you don’t have to guess. You can ask. And they are homeless, mostly.

“Yes we do have a homeless population here,” says Robinson-El. “But the way public libraries operate is that we open our doors and whoever chooses to come and use that particular agency or facility is welcome.…We have a population that is faithful and loyal. And if you walk around you will see that people are not just lounging around,” he says, though as he says it at least one person at the tables by the window is sleeping, albeit quietly. “They’re reading. I know because I put back the books that they’re reading at the end of the day. They’re reading reference material, they’re reading the newspapers, they’re reading the periodicals. And that’s what we want. They’re using the library, and that’s a good thing.”

The West End Friends don’t think so. Lois Adelson, Chair of the Friends’ Outreach Committee, says that the library report was explicit because it was mirroring the findings of the questionnaire that led to the report, in which locals inventoried the things they liked and didn’t like about the West End Library. Adelson suggests that the anxiety toward the homeless is rooted in compassion. West Enders feel “very sad when they see people whose lives seem to be so empty,” says the 76-year-old Adelson. “Many lay people feel that way in their presence. People have feelings, and anxiety, and I think older people feel threatened by things that are new, being ancient myself.”

“We were honestly trying to ascertain what would get in the way of people going to the library,” says Adelson. “It’s too bad when people don’t use the facility out of fear. We don’t have good institutions for damaged people to spend their days. But the library becoming a social services agency is a stretch.”

Robinson-El says that the issue of homelessness and libraries is an issue that librarians talk about among themselves. Last year, in fact, the system held a staff workshop on homelessness “so our staff would be more sensitive,” says Pamela Stovall, associate director for the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, which has an especially large homeless population. Stovall says that the D.C. libraries’ official position is that “this is a free public library and all are welcome. All of us would love to see more day shelters and improved services for the homeless.”

The welcome mat comes with a judicial mandate. In 2001, the libraries lost a lawsuit brought by a homeless man, Richard Armstrong, who had been excluded from the MLK library based on his “objectionable appearance.” Armstrong’s exile was part of a systemwide policy in place since 1979 to keep the homeless out. A federal court, however, found that the “objectionable appearance” kicking-outs violated Armstrong’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.

The library-access rights of the homeless take on a certain urgency in the summertime, when people who haven’t showered are coming into a small space and other people notice. “If you elect to work in a public library, you can’t be squeamish and you can’t say, ‘Oh, I wish it smelled like roses every day,’” says Robinson-El.

True to the ideal of a library for everyone, Robinson-El has increased the number of seats and lets people move chairs and tables around in order to make themselves feel more comfortable. He’d like more people to use the library—to have more activities, more customers, to have the library be a bigger part of the community—and thinks that perhaps one major change would help with that: “Modestly, we’d like a color printer. So that we could print bright, colorful things.”

Anthony Lanier’s plans for the library are slightly different. Lanier is founder and President of EastBanc, the group that was awarded Square 37 for development by the emergency legislation that was then rescinded. Lanier is hoping that the city issues a new RFP, and that he will win the RFP, which will include tearing down the West End Library and building a new library. Lanier sees this as an opportunity for change.

“The libraries are not a homeless shelter,” he says. “We have to build a library that makes it unlikely that the homeless will basically camp there. Maybe by effectively eliminating the library for two years we will break that habit. I don’t want homeless to use the library as a shelter. Don’t want to disenfranchise them, either.”

A gleaming new library designed to the Friends’ specs might be hard on Claudine Tate—one of the few women at the tables by the windows. Tate says she is 42, and homeless, and that she has had a nomadic life since 1997. She’s new to the West End Library—Tenleytown’s library was where she used to go, but she got tired of it there and decided to try someplace new.

“I come here because it’s a place to get out of the elements, rest,” she says. “There’s a computer so you can advance your skills. It’s also a good setting because the homeless people who home here are into books, reading. I’d rather come here than loitering in the streets every day, sitting on the benches.”

If this library closed—or if it became inhospitable to its homeless customers—Tate says she and the others would probably “migrate to another library. Probably go downtown, MLK library, which is already overcrowded with homeless people.”

Tate has a cache of overstuffed bags on the ground next to her, and a stack of books in front of her—the Epoch Times newspaper, books on art, a dictionary that she has just used to look up a word in a poem in the Epoch Times. She would like to go to college and is looking for a job, and in front of her is a piece of paper where in pencil she’s written: “My Interests: liberal arts, museum studies, antiquities.”

(Photo of Robinson-El by Washington City Paper Staff Photographer Darrow Montgomery)

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  • Tanya

    When I use to work in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood , I would visit that library. Every time I went in their it seem as though most of the people in their were homeless. I have no problem with that at all. However, no matter what time of day or day of week I went, all the seats were filled to capacity. It didn't help that we aren't allowed to sit on the floor either. It got so nerving that I started checking for my books online and going in simply to pickup and leave. Perhaps additional seating or at least allowing people to sit on the floor would make the library a bit more inviting.

  • Jay Reeder

    The West End library is my neighborhood library. It is overrun by the "homeless", making it effectively unusable.

    Downtown libraries have, in fact, become dedicated day-care centers for that insane and addicted population we have euphemistically dubbed 'homeless.' And that's a huge tragedy on every level.

    This problem will only be solved when the country decides to get the mentally ill off the streets and into treatment. And I don't see that happening anytime soon.

    Before long, our unusable urban libraries will lose all popular support and will be defunded. And that will be a real shame. Another amenity of civilization lost because we refuse to effectively treat and rehabilitate the dysfunctional members of our society.

  • Ron The Don

    This is what's wrong with our society. We wait too long before a situation gets so bad that any logical solution will come too late or does too little. If the District can find millions to build a new stadium for a team will endure another 100 loss, then there's no excuse for them to provide help for those who have no place to call. If the West End Library closes, it hurt more than those who don't have beg for change on the streets.

  • Matty B

    I'm glad we all appreciate the grim reality of the lack of shelters, treatment centers, and comprehensible prograims of aid for the homeless in this city, but in the meantime:

    These people need a place to go. Until alternatives are implemented by the city legislature, libraries are seemingly all that the homeless have. To exclude them now - when in reality their presence is at most a minor inconvenience - would prove devastating to their livelihoods, and be embarassing on the part of the city. Those so confident in their belief that "a library is not a homeless shelter" fail to see the ramifications of the policies they champion.
    God forbid someone on the lowest socioeconomic tier enter a library and, you know, read a book and educate themselves or something. Yes, their appearence may be unsightly, their smell almost unbearable, and their very presence unsettling - but they're harmless, and they need this space.
    And anyway, if you're truly fearful of someone of a different socioeconomic status than yourself, do yourself a favor and avoid public spaces that cater to a variety of differnt people. Patronize private bookstores (They could use the business). Or better yet, move to the suburbs, where you can revel in widespread homogeniety.
    Just don't knowingly make a bad situation worse.

  • al gonzales

    The homeless are killing DC libraries. We've closed or underfunded the places that treat mentally ill homeless people, & the only places left for them to go are the libraries. Just the stench from the people - & even their most fervent advocates recognize this problem - makes the libraries uninhabitable.
    So if we lose the libraries, & then where will the homeless go? The logical answer is to act on the homeless problem, which in turn will save our libraries.

  • Jeri

    This article makes no attempt at a fair and balanced look at the West End Library. Ms Greenwood deliberately uses polarizing language to set up a story that makes good copy. Unfeeling white, upscale residents vs.the homeless makes for energetic copy. If some effort were made to understand the situation, she might choose to read the West End Friends of the Library's strategic plan that tries to fairly accommodate all potential users.It sees the library as a community center and learning facility. DC students with a valid library card can enroll in and receive online help. Mayor Fenty's task force on Homelessness has been working to find apartments for the homeless. They have come to the homeless at the library to help them with health care, food and to find work, in those cases where that is possible. The West End Friends of the Library have worked in partnership with Miriam's Kitchen, a non-profit helping the homeless, located nearby. The West End Library serves Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom as well as the West End. The area is home to a university, a large community of senior citizens and a vibrant multicultural neighborhood. All of these people deserve to find space to read in the library as well as our citizens without fixed addresses. The public libraries cannot solve all of our urban problems.The West End Library happens to have concerned activists who are dedicated to improvements that go beyond the scope of the size of the book collection. It's easy to criticize. The author should have taken the time to get her facts straight.

  • Sarah

    I used to work occasionally at the West End branch. Like all public libraries, it is, and should be, open to the public and all that entails. Homeless people are part of our society. When we noticed someone who needed extra care, due to personal hygiene perhaps, we had agencies we could call who would come to help them find somewhere to clean up (If I remember correctly the Lutheran Church in Georgetown has showers and wonderful aid workers!) Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a home and are healthy need to learn to be more accommodating.

    However, there are some valid points the Friends group has made. A library needs to be responsive to the needs of the community it serves. One area of particular importance is the collection. If the residents of West End have different reading tastes than residents of Takoma Park, or Georgetown, or South East, the collection should reflect that. One of the things I learned in library school was called "Rosenberg's First Law of Reading" (after library scholar Barbara Rosenberg): Never apologize for your reading taste! Rosenberg was referring to people who read romance, westerns, graphic novels and other genres that are looked down on by readers of "higher fiction", but the same applies here. West End residents deserve a collection that reflects their interests just as much as in any other neighborhood!

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  • You Have No Idea

    Listen to the (I'm just assuming, this is City Paper) rich, white "liberals" whine about how the city doesn't do enough to keep its "insane and addicted population" out of sight or to find a Final Solution for the Homeless Problem. Look: there are a wide variety of reasons why people are homeless, and their lives are more complex than mental illness and drug addiction, jerk. Community assistance is great, but realize that it will ONLY GO SO FAR with respect to getting people off the streets permanently. This is something that needs to be understood by more people.

    Anyway, let these guys use the libraries. They're not hurting anyone. And no, they're not "killing libraries" because there hasn't been anything to really "kill" in the past 25 years: DC libraries suck because (a) the city is poor, and (b) our local officials steal whatever they can get their hands on. Just because you moved here from Westchester 5 years ago doesn't mean that this is a new phenomenon. Get used to it or move to MontCo already.

  • al gonzales

    It's low lifes & low-brows that are killing the libraries. DC is not a "poor city." If DC could spend $611 million on a baseball stadium, & it did, then it can spend $600 million to fix the libraries.

  • Jason Cherkis

    al -- great point.

  • Rebe

    The article makes for a provocative read but 6. Jeri had the facts right. The West End has a strong community coalition who actually fought the city from giving a for profit developer our library (and fire station) to build "high income housing." We're for retaining our vital public asset and ensuring that it remains at the community center it is (also it would be great if we could get some moderate income and supportive housing out of the RFP deal). As Jeri also mentioned, we have this amazing West End-Foggy Bottom nonprofit, Miriam's Kitchen which offers food, social services, arts courses and housing to the West End's homeless residents. I'd love to see all who have responded help us help Miriam's Kitchen provide even more quality services --!



  • Brian

    This was an interesting read. It really shows what foolishness can pass for journalism. If the writer explored half of the things that normal people who wrote for free contributed in the comments, the story may be credible. The only thing that I have seen Arin Greenwood contribute since filing this sloppy story is a link to her own blog where she butchers the angle of her own story.

    I don't know where the homeless would go if they did not have the library. I can understand the view of people who don't feel like they can enjoy their library because homeless people monopolize it. It seems like a problem that has a larger cause. But you don't seem to find that included in this story. I see more of the writers attempts to be clever than substantive and thorough.

    I really hope Arin Greenwood enjoys writing for the City Paper. I don't expect to see her name on stories anywhere else.

  • Long Time Rez

    This is the perfect article to accompany another CityPaper piece on "filing for journalism bankruptcy."

    Do any of you so-called "writers" do any credible research? Not to mention, this story is over a year old.

  • Arthur Delaney

    LOL @ u cranks

    Go Greenwood!

  • A. Crank

    I agree with Arthur. Greenwood should indeed go!

  • ray

    Wow you're a vicious and self congratulatory bunch of hecklers. The article tackled but didn't sugarcoat a tough issue. Mocking the writer doesn't make his/her points any less valid, well presented or timely. I'd love to see any of you do the same.

  • Riaan

    Libraries are for people. They are for everyone. The so called "Friends" report is totally invalid. They say that they took a survey of West Enders, but the survey was only given to people who the "Friends" wanted to give it to.

    I don't think the West End Friends represent the community's interest. They're simply the richest part of the community that's throwing a temper tantrum that people they don't like are alive and in their city.

    I'm all for the library getting a more diverse collection, but for god's sake, people who don't have a home can't kill a library.

  • Brian

    I agree with you Riaan in that libraries are for people and that people who do not have a home cannot kill a library. However, the survey's takers and the demographics of the friends were not things that the writer explored. Just so everyone knows, I am not a friend [I did not know that libraries had friends outside of taxpayers]. My gripe is simple. If the friends are being a bunch of wealthy white people who made a survey and cherry-picked who received it, really explore it in the article. Instead, we were given an article that reads as a gotcha piece. When people added feedback, the writer actually entered a comment. But that comment was more about self-promotion than "hey I really investigated this and here is why the observations were valid"

    I do not know if the friends report is invalid or valid because I have not read it. I think that based on what is quoted; I do not want to read it. But you don't expose a serious problem like a group that seems to be anti-homeless by putting poorly attempted style over substance. This reads to me as some well-intentioned mess that exploits the homeless to sell papers. To me, that isn’t much better than what the writer is reporting about the friends report.

    You may disagree and I will respect that. Nevertheless, even in our disagreement, we have offered a substantive discussion than Greenwood's article.

  • DelRica

    I request this library and many others throughout the city as I am a fan of "free" information. I know that my DC tax dollars support such venues and I'm proud to use it. That said, we have a huge homeless problem in DC and it is ridiculous to assume that they are all mentally ill and should be institutionalized. What options are available, I do not know. I only hope and pray that none of us who are so outspoken on the matter, and disgusted by "their" presence ever end up in that predicament.
    I don't understand how the presence of certain people can impact the use of services that we are all privy to. The homeless seem to be the pick of the day but I can insert some other groups in their place and almost feel the same outrage. When will we learn that we are all here together, work with one another and become better people?

    As for the writer of the article, the story was very one-sided and didn't come across as very well-researched. But check the source -- citypaper. While we read and enjoy (or become outraged by) the articles, we really don't expect the highest quality literary expression. We must do our own research and put our money where our mouths are; a public library is just that -- public.

  • DelRica

    Sorry, I meant frequent. Proofreading is a MUST!

  • Arin

    Hi - the writer here, to respond to comments and questions:

    The piece was 100% not meant to be a gotcha. It was meant to shed light on what I think, anyway, is a very complicated issue that has various emotional, legal, political, social, and other aspects to it, especially in a city that is as (racially and economically) diverse and complex as this one.

    I think the Friends report expressed what a lot of people feel - that they don't want to use their community libraries because they feel as if the libraries are attracting mostly people they're not comfortable around. The question, then, is: what do we do about that? The Friends report was a lot more blunt than this sort of discussion usually is - which is part of why it is interesting, I think.

    The DC Libraries' answer to the "what do we do about that?" question is to invite everyone to use the library and not to favor one demographic over another. I think this is a good response, personally.

    Another perfectly reasonable answer would be to create other clean, warm, resource-filled spaces where homeless people can spend their days so that they have other places to go. If the piece were longer you'd have read more about that side of things.

    I hope this piece doesn't come across as demonizing the Friends. I think their report is a lot blunter than you'd expect, but it also expresses feelings that more than just the Friends have. The question of what to do with those feelings is what's interesting to me and what I was trying to get to in this story. Who are the libraries for? Who is the city for?

    You can feel free to email me at if you want to talk about the piece more. I'll try to answer questions or comments here, too.


  • evelyn thompson

    Wow! an innteresting article; libraries are for all people. Now the uncomfortable smells of some people is a result of persons in destress and not knowing how to climb out of their serious daily problems. Persons living in certain conditions such as homelessness are very intelligent people who have been ousted by the elite who have lived in conditioned that are comfortable and not really caring about those persons less fortunate. We must learn to use our funded facilities to help address problems of people not just a mere glance and turning our heads in the other direction. Today with this economy the way it is. many people are just a paycheck or a few from being homeless themselves. I have an idea; when libraries are designed why not have in place services that can address the needs of the patrons. Community Services need to stop being selfish and learn to come together and work together for the good of all. I wold love to havwe imput of the new designs of libraries for TODAY. Yesterdys libraries were quiet places almost like a monistery it is a brand new day let us design our today. By the way I donot like to smell foul odors at all! I abruptly move away these smell signal some other possible health issues going on with persons. No I am not trying to be rude; I just want to infacize the importance of helping those in need be it counseling, appropriate media, what is appropriate you ask; I say a variety of assortments of useful material that can be understood at a glance. Your billboard for the month could celebrate cleanliness now where will the homeless person bath well; now this is where the interelationship of community services branch. Maybe some people have been so stress that they did not even think about smell and being offensive. Social Services should be in place to assist those persons in need. The system of operations needs to be fixed. No longer effective to all people. I did not know tha I was still a Librarian Assistant from many years ago. Skills learned from communicating with people one on one is so useful still. It is so nice to know that persons less fortunate still have their dignity to learn even if they did not get a bath . Let us solve this problem and be an example for Educational System to see WE CAN DO IT. IT IS NOT ALWAYS THE HIGHEST DEGREE THAT HAS THE ANSWER

  • Jill

    As a former resident of DC (Foggy Bottom) and as someone who works with a variety of libraries, I have to say that allowing libraries to become day-time homeless shelters isn't fair to anyone. Nor is it valid to suggest that those uncomfortable around the mentally ill are just the self-absorbed rich whites. Government agencies (city, state, federal) don't want to pick up the care for the homeless because it costs money so they look the other way when services used by the middle class collapse under the weight. Why shouldn't the needs of the middle class be considered alongside the needs of the homeless?

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  • S

    Get the homeless out. I dont have any pity for these winos, unless they are truly mentally ill (many are not- sorry).

  • Charles

    I used to go over to that library on occasion to check out a book and/or read on my lunch hour, as my workplace was nearby. Yes, I certainly noticed the homeless people there. They didn't bother me and I certainly didn't bother them. Of course, that was ten years ago, maybe things are worse now.

    Also, I find S's comment (#26) rather insensitive, ignorant and sounding like the typical ultra-right-wing agenda. Public libraries may not be social service agencies or homeless shelters but they are meant to be open to all. At least the social service agencies will know where to find the homeless and get them the help they need.

  • Chris

    While I certainly sympathize with the homeless--there is a difference between use of a library to read, learn, and better one's situation and other uses that seem to happen. Ms. Tate would seem to be a good example of a positive use--however in many of the DC libraries, homeless people camp (yes, camp would be the right word) out in the libraries and see this as their right. If they are reading--I say welcome! While a library should be open to all--there should be a stipulation that one use it for its original purpose, which--the last time I checked--was not to sleep, get warm, or god knows what else.

  • UncleSam

    Why not just install some storage areas, locker rooms, and showers in the basements of the libraries? That way homeless people can clean up a bit and store their belongings before sitting down to read. They are members of the public and are entitled to use the libraries just like everyone else, but some of them just need a little extra help. In the end, the library will be helping these folks better themselves (physically and mentally) so that they can (hopefully) obtain employment and live in permanent housing.

  • Jose

    I've been to the West End and it's a goddamn shithole. The librarians have been reduced to social workers. We could shame ourselves by repeating that it's a 'public' library or we could see this problem as what it is, a problem, and do what we can to get the city to open up day shelters for the homeless. Either that or end this whole public library thing, who needs em these days with the internet?

  • JB

    Anyone who has ever worked with homeless people will tell you that way more than half have mental health problems and/or addictions. And they deserve help, which most are not getting, because most of them don't want help. It shouldn't be their choice--but that's a whole other issue.

    A library should be a place where children can safely do school research and where women will not be leered at. Where basic hygiene is expected. That isn't right-wing or uncompassionate.

    I live in Arlington. And the Central Library continually has homeless people parked at the computers, playing online games. I've yet to see one reading a book. I actually had to write the County a letter to get the library to stop letting homeless people bring their teetering carts of putrid junk into the library! So now, these deranged men park their stuff outside.

    I have human sympathy for the homeless. Quite a bit, actually. I'm a fairly liberal Democrat. I think it's shameful that the good intent of deinstitutionalization has resulted in what amounts to abandonment of people in dire need. And I think those who are mentally ill and refuse treatment should get mandatory treatment on the government dime--reinstitutionalization, without the horrid abuses of yore.

    But civil order should not be negotiable.

  • Demetria

    Homeless people in libraries is not a problem exclusive to DC and it's environs. I've seen homeless people in every library I've ever visited. Homeless people who are not working have no place to go during the day. Why not go to the library? It's climate controlled and reasonably safe, there are bathrooms, and there are interesting events all day.

    One wonders if the problem is that there are people who are not making the most of their lives, taking naps in the middle of the day, and this is what bothers people (your protestant ethics are showing), or if the problem is a more visceral, "Ew, stinky people!" in which case the problem is easily solved with the suggestion to install lockers and showers.

    Of course, people who don't want to be bothered by homeless people at all can always endow private libraries, with subscriptions available only to those with valid pay stubs and rent receipts.

  • Eric Sheptock

    I am a well-known homeless homeless advocate. The mayor, the Council and many in DC Government know me by name. (Google my name to prove it.)

    I have used the West End library. I will visit it again soon (as a result of reading this article) to see how the homeless are being treated.

    Oddly enough, I don't look homeless. You wouldn't know that I'm homeless unless I told you. I dress rather well and don't carry a bunch of bags. There are others like me who are homeless but don't dress the part. Beware, lest we point out your mistreatment of the homeless.

    You should be made aware of the fact that every homeless person has their own story. you shouldn't paint with broad strokes. we aren't all addicts or mentally ill. I'll match wits with any one of you out there. Try me.

    I WILL say this much to the credit of the homeless haters: Even as a homeless person, i can't stand a lack of hygiene. There are shelters and day centers that offer shower facilities and hygiene products. The homeless don't need to be filthy. as it turns out, some are indeed mentally ill and don't reason well enough to know to bathe. It behooves the library to just post and/or distribute info about day centers and places to shower for their homeless patrons.

    Finally, I appreciate those who are sensitive to the issue of homelessness, including but not limited to Robin Diener and Pam Stovall (both of whom I know). The public should be made aware of the fact that many, including homeless homeless advocates like myself, have opted for day centers for the homeless so that the library won't need to serve that purpose. (See the Dec. 15th 2006 issue of STREET SENSE, DC's newspaper about homelessness and poverty.)

    Eric sheptock -- .

  • S

    Why the hell are you homeless? You don't have to be homeless to be a homeless advocate.

  • Danny


    The homeless community in D.C. is lucky to have you as an advocate. You sound smart, witty and compassionate. Good luck to you, Eric.

  • A Fellow Traveler

    To quote #33 above:

    "Of course, people who don’t want to be bothered by homeless people at all can always endow private libraries, with subscriptions available only to those with valid pay stubs and rent receipts."

    That is the classic "Libertarian" argument. The beginning of a two-tier caste system. Public libraries for the poor and Private libraries for the rich.

    Several several private libraries and museums already exist in this city. They belong to private organizations and universities. GWU won't let any visitors into its library. GU does if you show ID and sign in. GU also has some of the most stuck up, asshole students that will make fun of you if they suspect that you are homeless.

    I have experienced this many times. I don't complain. I do my research and leave. They have excellent Internet access.

    The idea of commenter #29:

    "Why not just install some storage areas, locker rooms, and showers in the basements of the libraries? That way homeless people can clean up a bit and store their belongings before sitting down to read."

    Well, that would be to easy. Then the first complaint would be, "How come I can't take a shower and store my stuff? My taxes pay for this library." Fair enough.

    So, the the library no longer becomes a just a community center, it turns into a social club or spa. Then you have to start charging fees for maintenance. The library is no longer public anymore.


    Day centers for the homeless are a good idea. So are job training, free education at UDC, credit for online courses and free vocational training. If we stop blaming homeless people and address the problems--economic and social, that lead to homeless in the first place, then there would be no need to use public libraries as a place to pass the time and keep warm.

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  • Alex

    Edward Was Dismissed by the library administration without no explanation

  • Q

    No explanation?!? This dude seemed too progressive. LL, there's a story here. Can you check it out?

  • Norbert Lupercio

    Really fascinating read this. When cleaning my window blinds I take them down and put them in the bathtub using Dawn dish washing liquid. I let the soak and the rinse till the water runs clear. You might need do this a couple of times. The blinds are easiest to handle as soon as they are pulled all the method up as soon as you take them off the window. Loosen them in the tub.

  • Anonymous

    Mattie B. - of course these people need a place to go. How about work? Callous of me you think? Well, the only good reasons for these people to not be working seems to be mental illness and/or addiction problems. In which case, feeling unsafe around them is a reasonable response. I work so that I can afford to pay sky-high West End rent, and thusly my pay taxes. I want to be able to use the facilities that my hard work and tax money pays for. Yes, in a perfect world everyone one's needs, abilities and limitations will be met by a benevolent social system that doesn't cost anybody any money (we Americans hate our taxes). We are not in that system, and it makes me mad that when I'm in the West End library, my senses are offended (smell, noise), there's no where to sit, the bathrooms, forget about it. There's no effort or even expectation that the library will be kept quiet. There are people who are losing their jobs in this economy and need to use the library's resources to find another job, probably in an effort to continue sheltering themselves. I have far more sympathy for them. How about this for a solution- Eastblanc wants the space- require them to build a homeless shelter in addition to new library and police station as part of their multiple use complex. Wouldn't that be ironic. Oh and Eric, we know you're homeless without you telling us.

  • Lisa

    Homeless in libraries has been a nationwide issue for decades. Originating in large, urban centers it has now become a concern for suburban libraries, as well.
    It will take the cooperation and collaboration of agencies to address the issue and come up with creative solutions. Granted, a lack of funding for social services is at the root of the need and some cities are finding crippled when trying to provide new services. Libraries as part of a larger social services complex, including other public services in the same building or adjacent to the library, is one way to begin.
    This article about the San Francisco PL gives provides a wonderful example of collaboration of services.