Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Homeless Problem

I read in either Newsweek or Time a couple days back that there was going to be some big library conference about how to handle homeless patrons. The homeless are always easy fodder for people talking about the downside to working in a library, and for many reasons I happen to agree. Some of them do have an unfortunate smell, argue about some ridiculously petty crap to the librarians, and misuse many of the facilities that are supposed to belong to everybody. Nobody wants to wash their hands after using the toilet only to find someone shaving in the only working sink. Some are also very mentally unstable, and that's a whole other issue altogether. But more often than not, I feel really, legitimately bad for these people. The "smell" issue is just a stupid complaint. Yes, it's inconvenient for others, but it's not like some of these people have easy access to showers and are choosing not to bathe just because they don't want to. Some of these people come into the library every single day, and once we close and lock up the doors, it's back on the streets, sleeping in the cold or finding some other place to beg for change or get a meal. As for misusing the library, they're not really taking that much more advantage of it than parents who blatantly steal display balloons for their kids or come up with long-winded ways to get out of paying for a lost book. If something is free, there are always going to be people who abuse it in some way. That's just how things go.

I don't really have an answer to the "homeless problem" that some libraries have, but if I had to choose between some guy who had nowhere to go and just wanted to spend a few hours in a warm place reading a book, and loudmouth teenagers who play videogames on the computers and yell out "FAG!" at each other, I'd pick the homeless hands-down. I think that out of everyone who goes in and uses the library, the homeless probably care about it a hell of a lot more than anyone else, save the people who work there. They're usually quiet, considerate, and on a couple of occasions have actually tipped me off to someone else doing something that they shouldn't be doing. Come to think of it, maybe that's the best way to handle it: Hire them to monitor the library undercover and boot out the other "undesirables" who really should know better. It'd get them a little bit of cash and save me the trouble of telling some random slob not to eat a bowl of spaghetti over a reference book. That's the best solution I can come up with. What've you got?

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