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April 3, 2007 9:10 AM   Subscribe

What they didn't teach us in library school. An article written by a former public librarian in Salt Lake City, concerning the dilemmas of dealing with the homeless. [via alternet]
posted by hydatius (132 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, we were taught about this in library school. Not that we were given any solutions, but it wasn't an utter surprise the first time I got a smelly drunk guy who was repeating the same loud sentences.

That said, yeah, it's an intractable problem when you have a job responsibility (never mind an ethical one) to help people who can be extremely hard to help, and to check out books to people who may well not return them. (All the while remembering that upper-middle-class people steal books and make pains in the neck of themselves, too).
posted by Jeanne at 9:20 AM on April 3, 2007


Interesting article, thanks. I have a library background and my mom still works in one. Most of the homeless are not a problem, most of them want to catch some sleep. Her library allows them to sleep provided they don't lie down, I believe. It's very sad.
posted by agregoli at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2007


Wanna see it for real? Go to any public library in any city in the country - especially now they offer internet.
posted by parmanparman at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2007


Yeah, we touched on this in my public library class. I'm in academic libraries though where this rarely happens. We have kicked out people who have been nuisances; things like local kids playing games, etc, and of course have had our share of perverts and such.
posted by the dief at 9:27 AM on April 3, 2007


I grew up using a small city's county-seat library in an era where "respectable" patrons were spared the sights, sounds and smells of this because, in nod-and-wink fashion, homeless people were quietly and fairly quickly escorted from the library by law enforcement and generally didn't return. Now the people you'd rather not be rubbing elbows with as you try to read practically camp out there, while full-time security folks walk a figurative tightrope surveilling them without openly accosting them, and my heart and head pull me in differing directions as to which is really better.

On the other hand, even though I've been mighty poor at times, I've been lucky enough to have been mostly careful about my hygiene and behavior and sensitive about its impact on others, plus I'm generally in the library to get stuff to read, borrow it, bring it back intact, and find more stuff.
posted by pax digita at 9:29 AM on April 3, 2007


Internet access and kooks in the library goes a long way to explain a lot of the people on Metafilter.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:32 AM on April 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


Strange, I just came back from the library. I hadn't been in a long time, but was really disappointed. Why don't libraries carry academic journals? Or high level textbooks? Not to be demeaning but everything seemed rather lowest common denominator. I realize such things are expensive, but that same expense is why I have to go to a library. It just seemed like the patrons at all the libraries were either children or moms in the very large section dedicated to Oprah's "book club". Sorry for the bitter rant, it just seemed to me that you'd get much more value out of carrying John Hull's Mathematical Finance books (even if only a couple dozen people a year use them) than the multiple copies of the "Left Behind" series. I realize this reeks of snobbism but it would be great if there was libraries with a more academic and learning focus, in a "Good Will Hunting" autodidact kind of way.
posted by geoff. at 9:34 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been lucky enough to have been mostly careful about my hygiene and behavior and sensitive about its impact on others,

Right as the article implies these people just aren't suffering from an economic condition but a physical one as well. They are mentally ill and we do not have a system in place that deals with them.
posted by geoff. at 9:38 AM on April 3, 2007


Internet access and kooks in the library goes a long way to explain a lot of the people on Metafilter.

As a member of the kook-in-the-library community, I take offense to this.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:38 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Sorry for the bitter rant, it just seemed to me that you'd get much more value out of carrying John Hull's Mathematical Finance books (even if only a couple dozen people a year use them) than the multiple copies of the "Left Behind" series.

If a dozen people a year use a library, it will close. Then nobody gets books. What's the value in that? Sadly, snobs aren't a large enough force to keep something up and running (and I say this as a sad theatre lover watching ANOTHER Disney musical open on Broadway). We do what we have to.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Pax, I'm sure that if you skipped a few showers, your odor wasn't even close to the smells they're discussing here. As a frequent subway rider, I know the odor the article is talking about. You cannot smell like that without being mentally ill (or attempting to prove some kind of point). Shitting and pissing and puking yourself is not normal. And it stinks like a dead horse's twat.

I'm not proud of my reaction to people who smell like that -- my internal reaction to it is actually violent. But really, folk like that should be taken care of -- away from the books, thanks.

On preview: Geoff said it first.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2007


Also, those academic journals and high level textbooks are wickedly expensive. Most libraries cannot justify that cost when for the same price, they could get six copies of a best seller that will circulate frequently.

That said, if you have some older textbooks you don't want, consider donating them to your local public library instead of reselling'em back to the campus bookstore. Most places would be happy to have'm.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:45 AM on April 3, 2007


Strange, I just came back from the library. I hadn't been in a long time, but was really disappointed. Why don't libraries carry academic journals? Or high level textbooks? Not to be demeaning but everything seemed rather lowest common denominator.

Very often, libraries, especially smaller ones, rely on what the public donates to them. With the advent of the internet and especially Nexis/Lexis I think the average library patron is more interested now in accessing the library for books and multimedia. More often than not in my hometown library I saw people coming to the reference room for atlases and almanacs; for anything news media they just had to request a terminal.

Eerily, this is really becoming the same standard for bookstores, too. Amazon has rendered the need for anything even slightly more obscure than the recent bestseller a crap shoot even in large chains. You're more likely to get exactly what you want in a cup of coffee at Barnes & Noble than on your shopping list.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:47 AM on April 3, 2007


Your local library may not carry the stuff you need BUT

interlibrary loan is your friend

AND

have you considered checking out your local university libraries? They usually have great selections of academic material and, if they're public, taxpayer-supported institutions, might offer lending privileges to local non-student residents for an annual fee. There might be some restrictions; if a student needs a book, they might recall it and some books might not be available during exam periods.

But those options are worth looking into.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:49 AM on April 3, 2007


I realize this reeks of snobbism but it would be great if there was libraries with a more academic and learning focus

There are - they're called university libraries. And a lot of them are open to the general public (some may require registration of some sort), even if they don't widely promote that fact.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:51 AM on April 3, 2007


Interesting that a retired librarian was able to write the story as gradual increase in the function of libraries. (Referring the commentary on the 1980s 'snake-pit' of hospitals.)
Now I'd like to see the op-ed piece written by a paramedic.

Geoff, you just went to the wrong library. Large urban public libraries are not the same as university libraries, which have no "popular section". Databases are going to be your next best thing, and many of them you can access from home.
posted by lilithim at 9:52 AM on April 3, 2007


Metafilter: espousing the hidden talents of university libraries.
posted by lilithim at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2007


geoff, I think you're seriously underestimating the extra cost adding those kinds of books will add to a public library. Even assuming we're talking about college level textbooks, those are going to run $100 or so, compared to $25-$15 for a decent hardcover/trade paperback copy of popular fiction. When you start talking about real academic books, you're talking about books that can run upwards of $300 for a single mid-sized volume. I'm not sure on the prices of academic journals, but I assume they're comparable.

Combine that with the fact that it's pretty easy to figure out which popular fiction to stock, but it's very difficult for a public library to figure out what academic items people might want. It's hard to pinpoint what topic a dozen people might want to read about (Mathematical Finance in your example) versus one no one would want to read about.

If you want an academic library, find one. But public libraries are really more for popular fiction, children's books, magazines, and the classics.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2007


Just wanted to validate that I've seen a lot of homeless use the public libraries in NYC. It's one of the few places they can use the bathroom, wash their hands or face, get out of the cold. It's no fun watching them pick lice out of their waist bands while one is trying to read, that's for sure. It's an outrage that the homeless are not better taken care of with our tax bucks.

Statistics about the homeless in NYC.

For 13 years a homeless vet worked for me before he died, homeless, alcoholic and mentally ill. He spent a lot of his time either in the public library reading kids books or in museums, especially the Museum of Natural History. As a result he knew a tremendous amount about dinosaurs.
posted by nickyskye at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Every library in my county closes on Friday, indefinitely.
posted by everichon at 10:01 AM on April 3, 2007


There are - they're called university libraries.

Don't count on it. My alma mater frequently is forced to cancel subscriptions to scholarly journals.
posted by mkb at 10:06 AM on April 3, 2007


I just spent six years serving on a library board. Indeed, we did have to add a 'smell' ordinance to the books - just as it's stated in the article.

I have no solutions other than the idea that things don't look so bad if you can keep the non-homeless/homeless ration high enough. I don't know if you can keep the homeless out, but I concentrated on bringing more people in.
posted by unixrat at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2007


Jesus, everichon -- that article almost made me cry. How terrible.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:14 AM on April 3, 2007


And it stinks like a dead horse's twat.

I dubbed the day center for homeless men that's under the same roof as my program "The Ballroom" because, well, it smells like fucking balls. Dirty, dirty balls.

Anyway, yeah; homeless and the libraries, big problem in Philly. Especially now that the Pew Foundation among others have sunk $150 million into moving the Barnes Foundation to the epicenter of chronic homelessness on the Parkway which is not surprisingly next to the Free Library.
posted by The Straightener at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Solutions?
Anybody?
posted by Dizzy at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2007


Yeah, it's been a huge problem in Baltimore for a long time. The library staff there advises patrons not to go to the restrooms at all if they can possibly avoid it. It's tragic - and even here in small Asheville, there's a steady, semi permanent homeless population in the downtown library.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2007


it would be great if there was libraries with a more academic and learning focus

Oh, it certainly would. But public libraries nowadays are all about "the community." If the community wants crappy "street fiction" and movie tie-in novelizations, that's what they get. If the public library wants tax dollars, the public library agrees to hold "stop the violence" rallies in the auditorium that reverberate through all four floors. Or Home Depot job fairs or cheerleading tryouts or "teen dance nights." Some public libraries may still be the "universities of the poor," as Andrew Carnegie reportedly said, but mostly now they're the video arcade/dvd rental outlet of the poor.

(Guess what kind of library Scratch works in?)
posted by scratch at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


I do remember hardcore street people being somewhat of a presence in the downtown Milwaukee library when I haunted it as a kid. It never got in my way; on the other hand, that was pre-internet. Theres a few local regulars in the Ashland library, but Ashland's "homeless" population isn't really what the article is talking about. Medford has more, better examples of that cohort. At no time would any of what I saw (or smelled) have made me want to not be in the library.
posted by everichon at 10:35 AM on April 3, 2007


Solutions?
Anybody?


Well, I don't purport to be wise enough to solve the whole problem, but I'd bet that the first step has to be:

Stop being angry at the homeless.
posted by thethirdman at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [10 favorites]


Solutions?
Anybody?


Housing First.
posted by footnote at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


bookhouse and geoff, sure. Over the decades, in order to "enjoy" free access to the current issues of periodicals I'm too cheap or broke to buy for myself, I've had to withstand the presence of people who'd quite clearly sh*t their pants and/or were exhibiting other obvious fallout from behavioral, cognitive, and affective issues. Seen nickyskye's lice problem, too, and I won't sit on anything with fabric upholstery where obviously hygiene-challenged homeless folks have been. In Milwaukee Public Library's periodicals room, I got treated to a wino/junkie throwing up on Good Housekeeping. (I know, I know; I feel the same way about McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal myself.)

Clearly I should read the article despite having dated/known MLIS majors and a working librarian or two, but so far, this discussion seems about homeless mentally ill people that are no longer warehoused, supervised and medicated. Ref the issue of library selection vs. funding, I've found that the way to protect library stocks (and funding, by extension) is to get your friendly librarian to tell you which books are checked out least, then go check 'em out and immediately drop 'em in the return slot if you're not really interested in 'em.
posted by pax digita at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2007


Solutions?
Anybody?

Housing First.


DINGDINGDINGDINGDING. WE HAVE A WINNER.
posted by The Straightener at 10:39 AM on April 3, 2007


In the nearby town where I go to the library this is a huge problem because we have a recent past year or so giant influx in the street drug problem and the associated street people. I've had a couple of stupid run-ins with them and the librarians hate it. That town has one library (why the HELL did they just change the bathroom so keys aren't required? It immediately attracted them like flies.)

I don't remember this being a huge problem in Vancouver though. There was the odd person. Right, and the main branch always had plenty of security, too. Anyway, then one day I happened to curiously wander into the Carnegie Branch down on skid row. It's a library targetted towards the local community. In a bigger city, maybe this helps, in part.
posted by Listener at 10:42 AM on April 3, 2007


Solutions?
Anybody?


Free showers and washing machines at the library?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:44 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


this discussion seems about homeless mentally ill people that are no longer warehoused, supervised and medicated.

I think "warehousing" is too loaded a term. Some people are simply too ill not to be institutionalized. That is, they aren't capable of complying with a medication regime unsupervised.

I wonder how long it'll take before public librarianship as a profession merges with social work.
posted by scratch at 10:45 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


As a member of the kook-in-the-library community, I take offense to this.

Pfft. You're an invisible minority. What are you gonna do about it? Subliminally send gamma waves to interrupt my chakra?
posted by Dave Faris at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2007


Fascinating (and of course deeply depressing) article; thanks for posting it. This struck me:

An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since.


Me, if I were a librarian, whenever people complained about smell I would hand them a card with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people responsible for that verdict. If I were feeling particularly grumpy, I would give the smelly ones the card and tell them "These people will give you a bed for the night." Christ, what person in his right mind thinks that decision makes any sense at all? (And spare me any "it forces the bourgeoisie to come to terms with the problem!" rationale unless you personally are prepared to spend quality time with the odor-challenged.)
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2007


Solutions?
Anybody?


Kick them the f*** out of the libraries, as well as anyone else who stinks, makes noise, or is in the library for any reason but to read, consult, or take out books.

Put the mentally ill homeless in institutions. Not snake pits. But beautiful, country-club like paradises, where their every physical, social and spiritual need is met by highly trained and well-paid professionals. Institutionalizing the mentally ill homeless would cost many millions of dollars in lawyers fees alone -- but it is only a fraction of the money that is being wasted in Iraq, or on pointless Homeland Security boondoggles. And it would save our libraries. (Once you get that smell in your nostrils, you never forget it.)
posted by Faze at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think "warehousing" is too loaded a term. Some people are simply too ill not to be institutionalized. That is, they aren't capable of complying with a medication regime unsupervised.

Well, there is an intermediary step between homelessness and institutionalization, you know -- regular housing.

The problem is that in the U.S., we are so scared of being commie pinkos that we won't take the logical step of going ahead and providing housing first, and instead wait until the situation gets so bad that people have to be institutionalized in jails or mental hospitals as an emergency measure. In the end, we aren't really willing to let the homeless die in the streets, but we don't have the wisdom to treat the problem at the roots. And the emergency system ends up being much more expensive -- in terms of money, health, dignity, and the decayal of public spaces like libraries -- than a real social welfare approach would be.
posted by footnote at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


"the decayal of public spaces like libraries"

(Is decayal a word?? I think it's a nominalization of a noun. Oh well.)
posted by footnote at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2007


Pfft. You're an invisible minority. What are you gonna do about it? Subliminally send gamma waves to interrupt my chakra?

I'm gonna send all those invisible friends I talk to over in Multimedia after you.

You watch, buddy. I got people.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:06 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


See, what I'm wondering is how long until your local media outlet uses this article for it's next scarefest. "Are libraries unsafe? Film at 11!"

God help the homeless in your city if any of them are sex offenders, drug addicts, or ex-cons who served time for violent crimes. This is the sort of story local news loves to exploit.

On the other hand, Holy crap! People who are certifiably crazy are hanging out day after day in the same place with kids. Is it just a matter of time before something really awful happens? I'm betting yes.

Also, just to show a little pride in the alma mater, the University of Louisville has a two sections devoted to bestsellers and new releases. That's in addition to a fine Edgar Rice Burroughs archive and a crapload of ridiculously expensive academic journals. Go Cards!
posted by BeReasonable at 11:07 AM on April 3, 2007


I think "warehousing" is too loaded a term.

Probably it is, but if you want to pick a different one, I think we're down to semantics. As Robert Frost noted in "The Death of the Hired Man," "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in" -- and an awful lot of these folks aren't functioning well on their own whether medication regimes figure into the picture or not. The death of cheap housing and the emptying-out of inpatient mental health facilities are two symptoms.

I'm currently enjoying the use of a pretty upscale suburb's public library where the kinds of stuff we're discussing is rare, possibly unheard of (only a few miles away, I've smelled urine in the stacks at a different one). I 'spect in a 'burb like that, the cop who's on duty is encouraged to intercept anybody who looks like a vagrant and challenge them as to their business, surveill to intimidate, etc. until they leave -- kinda like where I grew up in the South.
posted by pax digita at 11:08 AM on April 3, 2007


(And spare me any "it forces the bourgeoisie to come to terms with the problem!" rationale unless you personally are prepared to spend quality time with the odor-challenged.)

Exactly. The bourgeoise don't spend much time in public libraries. Library patrons tend to be middle-to-working class folks. So we have to put up with the nostril-burners.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:10 AM on April 3, 2007


Actually I went to most easily accessible university library (or the only one within 45 minutes) which was really and adjunct to a large statewide university -- it appeared geared toward night MBA students. Very posh, publicly funded -- but the library itself wasn't really geared toward reading, there were no reading rooms. Obviously this wouldn't be a problem but they wouldn't let me check out text books and every time I went there were large groups of loud, self-important night time MBA types doing group projects. Problem solved though, I ordered used copies off this Internet thing and went ahead and ponied up for the $400/year journal subscriptions I was too miserly to purchase before.
posted by geoff. at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2007


An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since.

The New Jersey Supreme Court takes a very expansive view of the right to access public accomodations under state common law. They even ruled that blackjack card counters have a right to play in state casinos. I'd guess that the odor case was based on that precedent.
posted by footnote at 11:16 AM on April 3, 2007


Dizzy: Solutions? Anybody?

Institutionalization. There's a fair number of people who are mentally ill and/or drug-addicted ("dual diagnosis") who aren't capable of looking after themselves, even with community support services.

Of course, running in-patient psychiatric hospitals is expensive, but then so is the current system.

From the article:
In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the discharged mentally ill began to be "deinstitutionalized" from crowded hospitals with "snake pit" conditions where they got inadequate treatment. They were supposed to be integrated into local communities and cared for by local clinics. That was the dream anyway, but such humane alternatives to indifferent hospitalization failed to materialize.
Listener: I don't remember this being a huge problem in Vancouver though.

I haven't seen it in Vancouver either, despite Vancouver's large homeless population; but there is a security guard posted at the entrance to the main downtown library. They may turn away people who are mentally ill or high.
posted by russilwvong at 11:29 AM on April 3, 2007


In bad weather -- hot, cold, or wet -- most of the homeless have nowhere to go but public places.

I think everybody should try this for a night. About five years ago I found myself in San Luis Obispo California, with nothing but a bike and a bag or two -- I didn't have a working car, but I'd wanted to see if I could find work in costal California, so I'd caught a ride down to a cousin's house in Ventura county, and then taken a train up the coast. I was staying in a hostel, but I was genuinely low on cash and so when it became clear to me I probably wasn't going to find anything that would constitute rent-paying work, I looked up the next train and discovered it left at 6am the following morning. So I thought to myself that I might as well save myself the $20 for the hostel, maybe just find a quiet place to crash, or stay up tonight and just sleep on the train tomorrow.

The thing I didn't reckon with was how cold things could get there even in May, and how things get when you really get tired. I had a light anorak and a long t-shirt to layer but not much more, and pretty soon I found myself shivering. So I started moving around, and that helped a bit. Then I found the post office, which was open and warm, so I hung out there for a bit, but there was surprisingly frequent traffic, including some characters that I found sketchy, and some signage that indicated the authorities didn't take kindly to people sleeping or loitering there, so I left. I figured that CalPoly might have some buildings open late or all night that might even get quiet, so I rode my bike up there. I did manage to catch a nap on a bench in the student center before custodians woke me up at 1am. I remembered the engineering building at my university was *always* open and had people working on projects until all hours, so I tried that. It was open, but I couldn't find any benches. After some more wandering, I ended up in a stairwell of the business building, where I eventually got another two hours of sleep until I got up about 5 am and headed to the train station.

There was a *huge* difference between me and someone actually in trouble, of course. I'd had a shower the morning before that night, and only looked mildly sketchy, I bought an apple fritter from a bakery on the way to the train station, I was going on a train back to family members where I could stay, and while strapped, I really could have pulled out a credit card at any time and gotten a safe warm place to sleep. So I don't claim any deep understanding of what it's actually like to really have nowhere to go. But I've thought about this and realized that never before then and probably never since have I even tried that kind of situation out: I've always had a car to sleep in (not comfortable, but it's personal shelter you can turn the heat on), or I'd *planned* to be camping and brought the right gear, or I had a genuine bed. Improvising on what's publically available or what goodwill is extended is really a completely different matter. I tend to think anybody in a position to make or carry out related policy ought to try it for a night or two. It might change things.
posted by weston at 11:30 AM on April 3, 2007 [13 favorites]


Institutionalization. There's a fair number of people who are mentally ill and/or drug-addicted ("dual diagnosis") who aren't capable of looking after themselves, even with community support services.

Can the people making this claim that institutionalization is the only solution to chronic homelessness back it up with evidence?
posted by footnote at 11:34 AM on April 3, 2007


I was really impressed by that article. Bravo Chip Ward! I work at a huge chain bookstore that has the exact same problem and I've never seen anybody really address the topic in the media until now. I am always alternating between feeling sorry for them/being ashamed of the way our country is run and wishing I could enter the 2nd floor without feeling nauseated by the stench of a homeless person's festering leg wound.

There HAS to be some middle ground between torture-chamber-style asylums and leaving people to fend for themselves as if they were wharf rats.

Unfortunately regular housing is only going to be a solution for those homeless who are homeless due to economic circumstances alone.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:35 AM on April 3, 2007


On the other hand, Holy crap! People who are certifiably crazy are hanging out day after day in the same place with kids. Is it just a matter of time before something really awful happens? I'm betting yes.

Yup...because of irresponsible parents, I'm betting. The largest problem in my hometown library, when I worked in Children and Youth Services? Not the homeless. Unattended children. Especially in the preschool area. It was shocking how many parents would either leave their kids completely alone while they wandered around, expecting us to babysit, or left their slightly older children at the library all day long. It's a public place. Anyone, including child molesters, can walk in and walk out with a kid. Kids cried all the time leaving the building - they didn't want to go home. My worst nightmare was that a kid would be kidnapped during my shift, even though my job was not to watch kids or protect them from harm. The library is not a babysitter.
posted by agregoli at 11:39 AM on April 3, 2007


Unfortunately regular housing is only going to be a solution for those homeless who are homeless due to economic circumstances alone.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:35 PM on April 3 [+]

[!]


Ok, I apologize for over-contributing to this thread. But it's simply not true that offering housing doesn't work for the mentally ill/substance abusing homeless. Here's a list of articles on the subject. It's not "regular" housing since it comes with added optional social supports and is not provided by the market, but the core idea is that the solution to homelessness is housing.

There will be some people on the margins who are so ill that they can't stay in any housing -- but there's still much to be done.
posted by footnote at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2007


Ah, yes, library patron "fun". Even academic libraries get to deal with this, simply on a fraction of the scale. But certainly you get plenty of people that look fine until they scream at the top of their lungs in the bathroom "YOU FUCKING BITCH! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!" or the "speed reader" guy that looks totally normal, except that he's sequentially going through every book in the library and marking all the ones he's "read" with a pen on the front and dumping the ones he "finishes" in the floor where he stands. Or hey, how about those serial masturbators? Fun fun. Formerly respected research scientist now eccentric mentally ill professor emeritus? He also liked screaming a lot. Don't forget about people who aren't part of your academic system wanting to check books out, because clearly you're discriminating against them for being black/white/gay/female/youngrepublican (if only I was making that last one up). And it goes on and on. "Public Library" shares a similar pain of name as "Public Transportation", but the librarians don't have their own section of the police department devoted to at least making a token effort to deal with this (although, frankly, that's not a terrible idea: Salt Lake City Police - Library Unit).
posted by smallerdemon at 11:46 AM on April 3, 2007


Can the people making this claim that institutionalization is the only solution to chronic homelessness back it up with evidence?

Even better, could somebody first show me where in this thread such an absolute claim has actually been made in the first place? I clean missed that one.

If your point is that not all the homeless folks out there need to be put into an institution, supervised, diagnosed, medicated...well, sure. A lot of 'em just need affordable roofs over their heads.

Maybe they ought to get to squat overnight in downtown office buildings so they can sleep where the heat and the workable plumbing are...naaah. That'd never fly.
posted by pax digita at 11:47 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, and how can I forget?! The speed reader ultimately knew we were going to have a peace warrant sworn to keep him out of the building, so he read faster. And a lot. We started finding books with blood on the edges of the pages because he was going through them so fast and so many. *shudder* Three carts of bloodied up books. Useless pretty much at this point, since we couldn't really put them back on the shelf.

He then went through every public area on campus that had a departmental library and "read" all of their books too.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


The bourgeoise don't spend much time in public libraries. Library patrons tend to be middle-to-working class folks.

I'm not sure you know what bourgeois means.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:52 AM on April 3, 2007


pax digita: Even better, could somebody first show me where in this thread such an absolute claim has actually been made in the first place? I clean missed that one.

That was me.

As footnote says: There will be some people on the margins who are so ill that they can't stay in any housing--

Right. And institutionalizing them isn't a great solution, but it seems vastly more humane than leaving them to fend for themselves.

I agree that housing with community support services would be a better solution for the chronically homeless who are capable of living in the community.
posted by russilwvong at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2007


Maybe they ought to get to squat overnight in downtown office buildings so they can sleep where the heat and the workable plumbing are...naaah. That'd never fly.

Oh, hey, they do that whenever they can. We recently had an incident in which a gentleman had been living in a hospital's administrative area for one of the departments. How was it discovered? Well, uh, see, some bright person left their password on a post-it on their computer. That he used for, well, pornography. So, draw your own conclusions about how this was discovered.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2007


Ewww, a non - US Navy love cookie!
posted by pax digita at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2007


If your point is that not all the homeless folks out there need to be put into an institution, supervised, diagnosed, medicated...well, sure. A lot of 'em just need affordable roofs over their heads.

The current research supporting housing first shows both that services are best utilized from within a permanent, affordable home and providing that home and those services is far, far more affordable than the massive and extremely expensive homeless maintenance apparatus that's currently in place. This apparatus includes not only shelters, but also the hospital emergency rooms, jails, detoxes and mental institutions that the chronic street population use and reuse ad infinitum. Housing first is more effective, less expensive, more humane.

The problems come in replicating the successful programs. Sam Tsemberis's Pathways model works great in NYC. Other similar programs are having limited success elsewhere. Part of this likely has to do with the comfort zone a lot social service providers have fallen into, where clients come to their office in a building downtown, as opposed to their going to the client's home out in the community. Housing first requires you to be out in the field, sometimes all day, every day. A lot of caseworkers aren't down with that level of involvement. Hopefully they come around.

This is just to clarify the housing first issue; I'm not trying to be contentious about anything. I'm also somewhat biased as I work for a housing first for families program.
posted by The Straightener at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


the librarians don't have their own section of the police department devoted to at least making a token effort to deal with this (although, frankly, that's not a terrible idea: Salt Lake City Police - Library Unit).

I think they might have officers assigned there, at least on a rotating basis. I spent a lot of time in the Salt Lake City Library back in December because I'd just quit my job to freelance and was looking for places to get away from the house and do work. I think I remember watching a police officer (could have been a security guy, tho') explain to a homless guy that he couldn't lay down there.

(It was bitter cold outside and I felt especially haunted by that when I found out a man who'd been living out of his jeep froze to death in my hometown not too long after that. Utah has a lot of good people who really care about issues like this, and I understand this is a complex problem, but I couldn't help but feel I was part of a community that had failed.)
posted by weston at 12:15 PM on April 3, 2007


footnote: Can the people making this claim that institutionalization is the only solution to chronic homelessness back it up with evidence?

I wouldn't say that it's the only solution, but I think it has to be a key component of a policy to deal with homelessness.

The deinstitutionalization strategy adopted 25 years ago appears to have failed many people. It certainly would have worked better with more money for community social services, but even in Canada, where government spending on social services wasn't cut as badly as in the US, there's a lot of street people who have been failed by the system.

Afraid I can't point you at specific studies--this is mostly based on media coverage of the homelessness problem in Vancouver, which is a big issue here. I also have a friend who works with dual-diagnosis inpatients at a psychiatric hospital.

More generally: our political system is based on the assumption that each (adult) individual is capable of taking responsibility for his or her own well-being. When that's not true--when a schizophrenic person stops taking their meds, for example, and ends up being a frequent flier at a downtown emergency room--the system doesn't work very well.
posted by russilwvong at 12:23 PM on April 3, 2007


The bourgeoise don't spend much time in public libraries. Library patrons tend to be middle-to-working class folks.

I'm not sure you know what bourgeois means.


I use it to describe rich people. "Petit-bourgeoise" is the term I would use for middle class people.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:28 PM on April 3, 2007


> I wonder how long it'll take before public librarianship as a profession merges with social work.

Amen. If I had a nickle for every time I've thought or said, or heard a co-worker say, "I didn't get into this profession to be a social worker", I'd have enough money to retire. The problem, as touched upon above, with the homeless and unruly teens at the library (and, as a public librarian, give me the homeless over the teens any day of the week), results from money being taken out of programs for these groups. As a result they have fewer (or no) places to go, ergo they end up at the library, and problems arise.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:40 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can the people making this claim that institutionalization is the only solution to chronic homelessness back it up with evidence?

No one said that; you might have inferred it from what I said upthread. Some mentally ill people cannot take care of themselves independently and never will be able to. Once deinstitutionalized, they decompensate, stop taking their meds, and wind up at the ref desk telling people they're dead. In other words, I think homelessness is a secondary problem for them. They need to be in a supervised (if not completely secure) setting. This won't solve homelessness but it would solve the original issue of the Alternet article, which was public libraries serving as de facto homeless shelters.

(No evidence to offer, 'cept anecdotal evidence, and tales from my psychologist auntie who has worked in a prison, a rehab hospital, and a state mental hospital.)

Hey Card Cheat, thanks for the validation. In 18 months I've discovered that I don't give a rat's ass about "the community" and need to get myself into an academic library but quick.
posted by scratch at 12:49 PM on April 3, 2007


Anyway, yeah; homeless and the libraries, big problem in Philly. Especially now that the Pew Foundation among others have sunk $150 million into moving the Barnes Foundation to the epicenter of chronic homelessness on the Parkway which is not surprisingly next to the Free Library.

Ah, PhillyFilter. I lived a couple of blocks away from the Free Library in the early/mid 90s, and walked down the Parkway every day to get to my job near City Hall...I don't remember the library itself being heavily haunted by the homeless back then, but the Parkway, especially around business hours, was definitely panhandler central -- lots of foot traffic from the tourists and business folks, lots of four-star hotels and restaurants, and presumably patrons with deep pockets. The more things change, the more they stay the change...

I was friends with one of the regulars -- an older chap with cloudy eyes who was always accompanied by a little spotted dog that looked like it had some blend of corgi and blue heeler in its ancestry. He was always polite and soft-spoken as he worked the cup, a real contrast with some of the scary-aggressive panhandlers I saw every day, and the mutual devotion between him and the dog was really a sight to see; in cold weather the little guy had his own coat and a little blanket so he didn't have to lie right on the cold pavement; he was as dirty as his master, but clearly not sick or starved. The guy never had a leash for the dog, but he didn't need one -- the pup was a perfect shadow at his heels when they walked, and no matter what sort of hubbub was going on around them on the street he seemed to have eyes for nothing and no one but his master.

The Parkway was one of his regular working strips, and after hours he often bedded down near the Four Seasons (oh, the irony), and with my pedestrian commute I ran into that pair a lot at all hours. I was a broke-ass temp wageslave myself in those days, but whenever I got the chance I'd spend a couple of extra bucks in my grocery budget to take him a bit of food, maybe a flea collar or some biscuits for the dog -- if I caught them late enough that I wasn't running back to work, sometimes I even managed to dash home and cook something so he could have a hot meal instead of sandwiches. It wasn't much and I wished I could do something more, but he never complained...

Then one day I saw him and his little shadow wasn't with him, and my heart just sank. I was just sick at the thought that this guy who had next to nothing had lost his constant companion, what a cruel blow that would be. But I stopped to chat for a minute as usual, and finally worked up the nerve to say something about never seeing him without his dog before. His face split into a huge grin -- the dog was staying at a lady's house on Spring Garden today, he said; she took him in occasionally "so he could have a vacation."

It's been nine years since I left Philly. I wonder if they're still there. I hope they're doing OK...

posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 1:16 PM on April 3, 2007 [14 favorites]


“The cost of this mad system is staggering.”

Pretty much the cost won’t go away even if you take pains to ignore it. Just sort of squishes into other public sectors - like silly putty.

russilwvong - we seem to be on the same page. I was thinking of the Reagan-era stuff that started some of the problems here. I suppose the choice there is - either you pay for libraries and other public facilities or you pay for clinics and such in the ‘local community.’ Well, some things do have to be taken care of on the state or federal levels. Joe Sixpack out in bumble might question why he has to pay a bit extra in federal taxes to take care of the city problem of homelessness - but it costs either way. Either it’s an overwhelming local problem - in which case - why should Joe Whiskey downtown have to choose to either take care of somebody’s brother/son/uncle/ whatever or give his kid a decent library? Or it’s a serious state problem - similar matter - only why does my state suffer just because we have more cities when that actually goes to subsidise your state (I’m looking at YOU North Dakota). Or it’s a minor federal problem. Of course, it sure looks good getting tough and cutting the budget.

“Yup...because of irresponsible parents, I'm betting.”

Nnnnot so much. I mean - your point taken, yes, but it’s not simply inside the library. Even a conscientious parent can have a rough time. I saw a drunk/high homeless man (not a regular) making obscene gestures at some preteens the other day outside between the church (which serves as a homeless shelter) and our local library. Which is also surrounded by houses and such. If I can’t trust my kid being safe in a block walk through a suburban neighborhood -what the hell am I paying taxes for? On the other hand when I walk into the library escorting kids....y’know that mechanized deep bass that plays when the terminator is walking somewhere? “bu-bu ba dum...bu-bu ba dum...Sarah Connor?...bu-bu ba dum” Yeah, pretty much that. But what am I supposed to do, threaten to kill every homeless guy that looks at my kid funny?
That ‘the library is not a babysitter’ works both ways.
Homeless people don’t belong in libraries and my tax money shouldn’t go towards dealing with that. I’m happy to pay my share in taxes for shelters, housing, any number of other programs.

But that’s the problem - either the money is going to be spent doing it the right way (and there are many ways), or the money is going to be spent dealing with it the wrong way. If it’s spent the wrong way it’s because someone doesn’t want to acknowlege that it’s got to be delt with because it looks bad and letting homeless folks screw up libraries is easier to hide. You can just look around “gee, I don’t know where they’re coming from. huh.” And typically those people are politicians.

Let me tell you something, funny boy. Y'know that little stamp,the one that says "New York Public Library"? Well that may not meananything to you, but that means a lot to me. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we're too old to change the world, but what about that kid, sitting down, opening a book, right now, in a branch at the local library and finding drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees on the Cat in the Hat and the Five Chinese Brothers? Doesn't HE deserve better.This is about that kid's right to read a book without getting his mind warped! Or maybe that turns you on? Maybe that's how y'get your kicks. You and your good-time buddies. Well I got a flash for ya, joy-boy: Party time is over.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:16 PM on April 3, 2007


I use it to describe rich people. "Petit-bourgeoise" is the term I would use for middle class people.
Then if I ruled the world you would have to revise that.

My spent-his-childhood-under-Communism, of pre-Communism upper-middle-class and post-Communism upper-middle-class family background uses it in the same way. As someone who grew up a peasant and who speaks decent French (where it retains the “middle class” meaning more) I find that funny.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2007


Actually, I do care about the community, scratch...the people I *don't* care about are the ones who don't have any respect for the library and its resources.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:18 PM on April 3, 2007


Oops, s/family background/family background flatmate/ . This is the guy I share my apartment with I'm talking about.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2007


Holy crap! The guy who wrote that article, Chip Ward, drove the bookmobile when I was a kid growing up in rural Utah. He was the only adult I knew outside the Mormon Church and always treated me like my thoughts mattered, which was entirely unique for a ten-year old kid used to being told what to do and think. Sounds like he kept at it. Good on him.
posted by ga$money at 1:22 PM on April 3, 2007


Richest country in the world, leaves its sick to die in the streets and libraries.
Sad.
posted by signal at 1:25 PM on April 3, 2007


I should add that in my system, leaving a child (or children) under the age of 10 alone at the library is against the code of conduct and can (and has been) be grounds for alerting child services. We do our best to supervise, but libraries are large spaces, with lots of nooks and crannies and blind corners, and we cannot guarantee the safety of unnattended children (even at the branches with security guards).
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:27 PM on April 3, 2007


I'm not sure you know what bourgeois means.

I use it to describe rich people.


Wow, he was right—you don't know what it means!

And before someone hauls out the "ha ha, the descriptivist turns prescriptivist" card, descriptivists don't say words don't have meanings, they say words have the meanings speech communities give them, not the meanings pedants wish they had. The only "community" that uses bourgeois to mean 'rich people' is the community of people who prefer slogans to actual thought.
posted by languagehat at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bless your heart, Smilla's. I hope they're doing okay too.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2007


I am at work right now (dinner hour posting) at a large urban library and I have talked with around six homeless people today. None of them was a problem at all and some of my conversations were very interesting and got them the information they needed. I feel very sorry for the few people upthread that want to restrict access to their own kind only. I love that in the public library all socio-economic classes mingle and have the same rights and responsibilities. The library is great spot for integrating the mentally ill back into the community. Should there be more supports for the homeless and mentally ill? Absolutely, but in the absence of those supports the public library can be a compassionate place.
posted by saucysault at 1:45 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, I do care about the community, scratch...the people I *don't* care about are the ones who don't have any respect for the library and its resources.

Well, you're a better person than I, then. Out my way, the two groups are the same. That's kinda my point: in my not-even-close-to-humble opinion, the "library and its resources" = free access to learning, books, mind-expanding stuff in all forms. Education, self-improvement. In the community's opinion the library and its resources = free computer games for 6 hours at a stretch, free bathrooms, a warm place to snog in the winter, and so on and so forth. Very few of our patrons take advantage of the library and its resources, actually. But that's a topic for another thread. (Guess it's time to get my own blog.)
posted by scratch at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2007


I have to comment on your point saucysault. Certainly I can’t take exception with your perspective on compassion. But homeless mentally ill folks need some very specific, sometimes very complex, set of social aids. What you’re saying is (very roughly) akin to - ‘in the absence of a medical professional a well meaning engineer can be helpful’. And given what you describe, I have to agree with the sentiment that it’s better than nothing; and I have to recognize that libraries should be open as you describe. But understand that’s exactly what people who blow off the homeless are relying on. A friendly engineer metaphorically stopping the blood loss and keeping the problem from being overwhelming instead of actually providing the services of a medical doctor.
You have the time to provide some extra support to someone who needs a hand, great. But you are also paid by someone’s tax dollars to be a librarian. The library wasn’t built there to provide services to homeless or mentally ill people and neither were you put there to do so. That you do is exceptional - in many (positive) meanings of the word. But - while we agree - that support services should be provided as an absolute, I would emphasize that support at the library must be an option.
And that’s based on the meeting the need, not wishing to sweep people under the rug or keep them out of sight. There was some stiff NIMBY resistance to placing a homeless shelter in my community. I strongly favored it being here. But that does not mean I recognize the right of - anyone - to misuse the commons. That homeless folks are being forced to only makes it more egregious a tragedy. Of course, that’s philosophical. Practically - yes, you have to get out of the freezing rain. And I wouldn’t push anyone out. And my ire is more for the people who forced them and us into having to make that concession. But concession it is. A concession to real and appropriate services from the proper venue. Hell, I wouldn’t mind a public bathroom and maybe a warm place to sit for a few hours while in transit myself. But ‘community’ is more than just a building. I mean the will has to be there. And I don’t think it’s there in the library - in some respects and interpretations perhaps - but I’d prefer something explicit in the “we’re here to help you with ‘x’ problem” sense. Get you in a program, etc. Absent that, they have to rely on someone’s personal compassion - and that’s not a standard (and, really, not fair). I don’t know if that’s clear. I don’t think our points are mutually exclusive so I’m not trying to refute anything. Just sort of picking the issue up and looking at different facets.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:26 PM on April 3, 2007


Homeless people don’t belong in libraries and my tax money shouldn’t go towards dealing with that.

Wow. That's the ugliest thing I've seen on Metafilter in ages. Homeless people have a right to use the public library like anyone else, provided they are not harassing anyone. Your examples don't really seem like harassment - looking at you?

I feel very sorry for the few people upthread that want to restrict access to their own kind only.

Me too.
posted by agregoli at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


“Homeless people have a right to use the public library like anyone else...”

So if my house catches fire, I can call librarians to come and put it out? I have the right to use public library services like anyone else. Perhaps I should call the park district? The senior center? Next time I see a car accident should I call the water department? Better still - can I go into another community and use their services when I don’t pay taxes there?
I actually, y’know, work with homeless folks. I volunteer my time and I donate money and I’ve advocated within my community so feel free to shove ‘ugly’ up your ass until you’ve maybe used the library to learn how to read and discern meaning from someone’s comments instead of isolating one sentence so you can attack them. It’s not like the fucking point was unclear. What does “happy to pay my share in taxes for shelters, housing, any number of other programs” mean to you?
How is the general concept that politicians cut funding to programs to improve the look of their bottom line is ultimately bad for communities and homeless people because tax money must be spent but as a result is improperly routed through alternatives (like the public library) instead of dealing with the problem the right way - not clear? Oh, wait, I said homeless people don’t belong in libraries. I must have meant the don’t belong there ever, not that services for them there are inappropriate to their need and it’d be a misdirection of tax dollars. And of course nowhere else in my hateful screed does it even allude to such a concept. Federal level? I must simply hate homeless people. Also, I mentioned the terminator - that must mean I want to terminate the homeless - just for looking at me. Or whatever it is I said. But either way - man, I’m a fucking gestapo motherfucker aren’t I?
Yes, let’s all just weep for the homeless and curse the people who don’t want them in their libraries. They’re the real bastards. Not the politicians who put them there. Not the people who look kindly at them or remark how it’s a bitter cold world yet don’t put in time week after week fucking volunteering. No. Actually doing something about the issue isn’t what we want here is it? Actually feeding and clothing someone properly in a facility designed for it isn’t what we want. Getting them into rehab programs? Fuck that. They belong in people’s faces in the library because otherwise we wouldn’t get to look like such bleeding hearts on the internet. No no, just keep weeping openly for everyone to see. Boo hoo hoo. Look how much I care for the poor victims who hopefully will keep getting victimized to I can continue to care loudly. Boo hoo. Look everyone! Look how much I care! I care so much I don’t need to comprehend or quote in context. Boo fucking hoo.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


I apologize for the acrimony of the former comment. Bit sensitive for me. But my point stands. I am not Mr. Clarity. But upon rereading I don’t think I was so unclear that my statement (in context) could be so misinterpreted - unless someone was looking to score points.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:15 PM on April 3, 2007


I worked in a library for a few years back about a decade ago. Sure, we had guys who smelled like he had been urinating on themselves for at least a month. There was also a man who spent the day taking stacks of books off of the shelf and placing them in other areas of the library. I knew he was doing this because it was my job to shelve books the patrons had left lying around. I think he appreciated my not ratting him out because he gave me a bananna one day I took a bite, smiled and thanked him and from then on he seemed to pull smaller stacks. Sure there should be more affordable housing for the homless, and waywayway better care being made available to the countries mentally ill, but anyone who has met our government knows these things are not goiing to happen. Not with so much stuff out there in the world that needs to get blowed up. So until the day when we reach a utopic state where everyone is happy freash smelling and on their meds, I think we need pull the collective stick out of our asses and not get all up in armes about a little urine smell, obscenity screeching, or schitzophrennia blood. Public places are just that public. They are supposed to be for everyone. If you want to be in a building where you have complete control over the environment, go the fuck home.
posted by Wonderwoman at 3:19 PM on April 3, 2007


We've had flashers, and people who urinate in the elevator, as well as the Generally Creepy. However, there was an individual, head and shoulders above the rest, whom we called "The Troll." The Troll moved from floor to floor, probably managed to sleep there at night, and had a hideous odor that I could sense from a great distance. I could tell where he had been, purely by smell. He stayed on the Internet, all day - other patrons would no longer use the nearby terminals due to the aforementioned funk. He also hassled the shelvers, and would be forced to move to a new floor. After a discreet bit of shoulder-surfing, I found out all about him. He was articulate (online), he had a family back home, but there was some kind of disconnect going on with the bathing.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I get the feeling that this guy wouldn't use a public shower if he had access. Certainly we had a gym with showers available. I'm not sure if the odor counts as harrassment.
posted by adipocere at 3:19 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


saucysault, agregoli: I don't believe many of us are objecting to the presence of any homeless people in libraries. What I, at any rate, am objecting to is the presence of smelly and/or agitated/abusive homeless people who make it virtually impossible for anyone else to use the library effectively. It would be wise to assume, as a matter of courtesy to your fellow MeFites, that unless someone explicitly says "fuck the homeless, I don't care about them," they're probably objecting to something more specific. Are you saying you personally have no problem trying to read/study while someone is screaming abuse or reeking in the vicinity? (As has been pointed out, we're not talking about "didn't use deodorant today" body odor, we're talking about vile, impossible-to-ignore stench; if you've never smelled it, you're lucky, but you also don't know what the rest of us are talking about.)

And Smedleyman, no need to apologize; I think you were very clear, and there's no need to bend over backwards to stay on the good side of anyone who is, as you say, looking to score points.
posted by languagehat at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2007


If you want to be in a building where you have complete control over the environment, go the fuck home.

No, how about if you want to be in a building full of smelly antisocial people, go somewhere other than a public library? And if you think such people are so great to be around, why not open your home to them?
posted by languagehat at 3:25 PM on April 3, 2007


Wow, he was right—you don't know what it means!

And before someone hauls out the "ha ha, the descriptivist turns prescriptivist" card, descriptivists don't say words don't have meanings, they say words have the meanings speech communities give them, not the meanings pedants wish they had. The only "community" that uses bourgeois to mean 'rich people' is the community of people who prefer slogans to actual thought.
Huh. That's strange. I was actually agreeing with you and saying that you had a good point.

And in response to this, you throw a whole bunch of scorn and condescension my way.

Is that standard operating procedure for you, languagehat?
posted by jason's_planet at 3:33 PM on April 3, 2007


agregoli: Wow. That's the ugliest thing I've seen on Metafilter in ages.

I think you misunderstood what Smedleyman was saying.
posted by russilwvong at 3:38 PM on April 3, 2007


jason's_planet: I was actually agreeing with you and saying that you had a good point.

... what?
posted by russilwvong at 3:40 PM on April 3, 2007


I was actually agreeing with you and saying that you had a good point.

Like russilvwong, I don't understand this. I mean, clearly we had some sort of crossed wires and I apologize for offending you, but it sure didn't read to me like you were agreeing with me.
posted by languagehat at 3:50 PM on April 3, 2007


I use it to describe rich people. "Petit-bourgeoise" is the term I would use for middle class people.

Ah, OK. On further research, I see that it's not really a useful term because it describes different classes in different societies. Bourgeois means one thing to a Marxist and something else to a Frenchman and something else to a modern German and something else to an East Coast American. You're right, and I'm right and everybody's right, so to speak.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:55 PM on April 3, 2007


We need to put satellite social service offices inside libraries--it'll take the burden off of librarians, and the population that needs services is already there. Libraries are far more than just books anyway nowadays--there are literacy classes and others, and it's still a reliable place to do homework after school, and many other orgs do meet at libraries.
posted by amberglow at 4:00 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Public library is one of the last places left in this society, that don't involve consumerism or religion and are open to all. They're a litmus test, the inconvenient realities of the neighborhood can't be swept under the rug and citizens have to learn tolerance not the cold aloof privileged comfort of an air conditioned shopping mall.

Librarians, good ones anyway, are many things anyway and always have been: Teachers, advisors, tutors, translators, and social workers of sorts who point people to resources for a all sorts of things, medical issues, immigration issues, legal help, educational/training opportunities, welfare and emergency housing. The list goes on and on.

That being said, I don't think there's any room for violence or disruptive behavior, (get the guards or call the cops and throw them out), but the homeless or older retired folks who live alone and have a nowhere else to go? They can't be kicked out even if they stink, and, there are people who will lay you out from 20 feet away. But, once you get to know people, you, or a co-worker, can delicately explain the problem. (Some people don't realize and try to deal with it once they're made aware).

Loneliness, homelessness, ill health, terrible hygiene, alcoholism all that stuff needs to be addressed and the answer isn't blaming libraries for attracting people who suffer from those things. That just amounts to shooting the messenger. Social workers should, should make rounds in libraries, they could be a combination community liaison/social worker/peace officer. Sort of how the old time beat cop knew everyone in the neighborhood and problems could be resolved before they turned into something more serious.
posted by Skygazer at 4:01 PM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Excellent idea, amberglow! That is a fantastic suggestion.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2007


[T]he answer isn't blaming libraries for attracting people who suffer from those things. That just amounts to shooting the messenger.

Whoa, Skygazer. I don't think anyone is explicitly blaming the libraries themselves (far from it), and nor did I get the sense that was the argument of the original article.
posted by hydatius at 4:47 PM on April 3, 2007


it's not really a useful term because it describes different classes in different societies. Bourgeois means one thing to a Marxist and something else to a Frenchman and something else to a modern German and something else to an East Coast American.

I think this is right, and it's probably what I should have said to jason's_planet instead of snarking at him: You use it that way, I use it this way, he uses it another way—it doesn't seem to be a useful word. (I originally used it to parody a kind of lefty attitude that gives me hives, so when jason's_planet seemed to be exhibiting exactly that attitude, it gave me hives. Sorry, j_p.)
posted by languagehat at 4:52 PM on April 3, 2007


The only "community" that uses bourgeois to mean 'rich people' is the community of people who prefer slogans to actual thought.
languagehat, my gut feeling says the sloganeers may well have the numbers on their side among people who use the term. I wouldn’t rush in with that argument in your place. But if you have survey results, I’d love to hear about them.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 4:55 PM on April 3, 2007


My girlfriend works in our public library (Worcester, MA) and runs into the same sort of stuff. I think I can safely speak for her preference to dealing with the homeless as a group, as opposed to the young adults.


It's a masterpiece of tragic comedy to watch how homeless folks are dealt with in my city, and I'm sure it's no different elsewhere: At 7AM they are kicked out of the PIP (People in Peril, a "come as you are" wet shelter). They move to the library. Invariably, the drunk, high, or otherwise disturbing are kicked out of the library. Some are arrested for refusing to leave and wind up in police custody. These folks are held until the evening when the PIP reopens, and then they are dumped there. Others leave on their own and continue taking their drug of choice. Many of them eventually wind up passed out/vomiting/pissing or shitting themselves/whatever in public. They are gingerly scooped up and taken to the hospital. Once the "keep the bum from dying for one more day" level of medical "care" has been administered, they are dropped off at...You guessed it...The PIP. Rinse and repeat, every freakin' day.

Housing first could definitely help some of our homeless population, and I'm a huge fan of the idea. There's a nice homeless vet, Mr. Reidy, who panhandles politely not too far from my apartment. He's always gracious and always sober. I once brought him a sandwich and a blanket in the dead of winter, neither was anything special but it brought him to tears. This was more than two years ago and he still say hi and thanks me every time we cross paths. Here he is, in a write-up about our "Panhandling is Not the Solution!" campaign, which by the way was a complete flop. Not sure he'd take them up on it, but he'd certainly be a great candidate.

However, some people are probably beyond help. Another personal example:

I kid you not, for more than a year I took notice of this one fellow. At 7AM I would drive past the PIP and see him leaving. At 8AM, I could look out of my building and see him cracking his first bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. By lunch break, he'd be in the same spot with a few empties at his feet. Like clockwork, he'd be passed out in a pile of vomit and the medics would be holding him at arms length putting him in the rig when I drove by on my way home. Haven't seen him in months, and I'll bet my next paycheck he finally bought the farm.

I'll probably take a lot of shit for this but I have to say, it's almost relieving to see someone who seems to be so resigned to not living anymore finally pull it off.

Sorry for being so all over the place, but in summary it's a really freakin' complicated issue. The homeless are a segment of the "regular" population with similar dispositions, vices, and whatever. Some are nice people. Some are assholes. Some use all day, but some don't. What sets them apart is their exceptional vulnerability brought on via addiction, mental illness, hard times, or any combination thereof. We have a responsibility to help those who are willing to transition to a normal, non-disruptive life in achieving that goal. We owe it not only to them but to ourselves to make better use of the money the homeless population already costs us. However, those unable to make this transition do need to be institutionalized. Again, it can't cost more than it does for our police, paramedics, and hospital staff to cart them around in a circle every day, and I'd much rather have my police officers/firepeople/librarians/etc. doing what they're most needed for.
posted by rollbiz at 4:58 PM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


my gut feeling says the sloganeers may well have the numbers on their side among people who use the term.

Seriously? Well, then, it's become an even more useless term. Nah, I have no survey results, just my own gut feeling, but it's probably way out of date. Don't mind me, I'll just get my cane and shuffle off.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on April 3, 2007


Skygazer: Loneliness, homelessness, ill health, terrible hygiene, alcoholism all that stuff needs to be addressed and the answer isn't blaming libraries for attracting people who suffer from those things.

I'd put it this way. The fact that librarians are acting as de-facto social workers in the US is a symptom of an underlying social and political problem: society hasn't figured out what to do about chronic homelessness caused by severe mental illness.

Librarians can't solve the problem; at most they can try to deal with the symptoms. They (and other library patrons) are suffering from the failure of the overall system.
posted by russilwvong at 5:25 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can the people making this claim that institutionalization is the only solution to chronic homelessness back it up with evidence?

That doesn't even remotely resemble the claim. The claim was that people who can't or won't reliably take their medication without constant supervision often end up off their meds and on the street.

Homeless people have a right to use the public library like anyone else

You are correct, but not in the way you imagine. I don't have the right to pee in the elevator; neither does anyone else. I don't have the right to make lewd gestures at people; neither does anyone else. I don't have the right to stink up the entire library; neither does anyone else. Everyone's use of the library has reasonable constraints on it.
posted by oaf at 5:29 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]



Librarians can't solve the problem; at most they can try to deal with the symptoms. They (and other library patrons) are suffering from the failure of the overall system.

So, given that, what do we do? I think it's beyond clear that the system is failing way too many, and more and more each year. Emergency rooms aren't supposed to be primary care providers but they are. Schools aren't supposed to be in charge of kids' nutrition and hunger, but they are and now provide free breakfasts and lunches to kids who otherwise wouldn't eat, etc ...

We have to get services to where the people are.
posted by amberglow at 5:30 PM on April 3, 2007


A stirring and moving article. Thanks for posting it...
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 5:37 PM on April 3, 2007


The Public library is one of the last places left in this society, that don't involve consumerism or religion and are open to all.
This bears repeating.

And I don't see any evidence that libraries here in NYC are any less popular since more homeless people started hanging out in them. A gigantic cross-section of society uses them all the time--from students to new residents to jobseekers to the elderly to vast amounts of regular working and middle class people who don't want to pay 30 bucks for a book they may not even like. They are a well-used treasure, and as they changed to meet the needs of certain populations in the past, they can adapt to meet these newer needs too.
posted by amberglow at 5:39 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


“...there's no need to bend over backwards to stay on the good side of anyone who is, as you say, looking to score points...”

Appreciated. And thanks. But I don’t know. We really don’t all know that much about each other. Maybe agregoli’s sensitive about it too - for whatever reason. We all get that “HEY! WTF!!” moment and fixate on something. Other folks here have shown more understanding in addressing the mistake, yourself included, so y’know. I mean it’s tough to champion compassion when you’re pissed off. Much less scrap over it: “BE NICE TO PEOPLE DAMMIT!!!” “WRONG! BE NICE TO PEOPLE!!!”Bit of irony there. Nah, the apology there has to stand.

And I think amberglow (and Skygazer)’s on to something. A ‘community center’ of sorts. The only problem is, I still think (more) federal dollars should be spent on this. Maybe it could be slid into one encompasing subsidy? You petition someone for the homeless - generally you meet loads of resistance. A lot of nice platitudes, but nothing substantial. Bundle it with library services and other programs you can say “What, you’re not against education, are you?”
I don’t think there’s a lack of caring out there. Certainly some folks, but they’re in the minority. No, the big issue is getting funding. I mean if your town is looking at a new library or something, and there’s no talk about social service plans or a community mental health center or community shelter - that’s sort of a problem. And then people act all surprise when homeless folks show up at the new library - well, duh. Not to mention cost of personnel, social workers, etc. Meanwhile Joe Mayor wonders why his town has to foot the bill for the shelter and the next town over doesn’t and all their homeless folks come there.
And, well, ok, rightfully so. A lot of towns/agencies believe they pay a greater share of discretionary funding for homeless services than do other local government agencies.
Consider - some places put homeless folks in national guard armories. Would you say armories are a nice open place for diverse groups of people to interact and can be a compassionate - whatever? No. It’s an armory. Why should armory resources have to be used for that?

So there needs to be more state and federal subsidy, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be the political will. Bundling those and applying for grants might well be a solution, or at least point out the costs themselves can’t be dismissed, they can only be shifted (inappropriately). I’d really like to see a federal program with local oversight and budgeting that follows the need. Then you’d have towns/cities/etc. begging for homeless people the way they beg for homeland security dollars and prisons so they get federal dollars and jobs.
(Right now it’s either HUD, the dept. of health and human services or the VA. They send out a notice that a grant is available and in many cases it’s competative dollars or formula based or all kinds of - ok - last year Illinois - that is, the state, got $2.4 million in PATH dollars (it’s for homeless mentally ill folks). This year we’ll get about $250K more. Sound like a lot of money? Statewide?
I grant (no pun int.) that’s just one grant program, but the grants for libraries seem a hell of a lot beefier. The motivation just doesn’t seem there, but perhaps homeless folks in libraries might wake people up to the reality.
But there are still major - and competing - jurisdictional issues. Out here we have the Chicago Continuum of Care (which is also the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness). Which is great, but it’s really a patchwork of faith groups, advocacy groups, foundations, government agencies, etc. And the money gets all muddled and as I’ve said competed for, and such. And it’s a big morass. When it should be recognized as a national priority and treated as any ‘community’ problem. As such - taxes should be levied in the proper manner and paid by the community to deal with it in the same way we deal with other federal, state, and local services. Otherwise we all pay for it by other means anyway. Or (swiftly*) turn ‘em into Soylent Green (and I’m not in favor of that either).
*bad pun.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:42 PM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I tend to think anybody in a position to make or carry out related policy ought to try it for a night or two. It might change things.

Walk-a-mile (maybe jess or some other well-known librarian could get them involved?)
posted by amberglow at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2007


Bundling is a great idea, Smedley--excellent.
posted by amberglow at 5:49 PM on April 3, 2007


Maybe libraries could set up social service things with local universities and staff them with students doing fieldwork or something? (that could be cheaper or funded with the univ. money/grants)
posted by amberglow at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2007


So, as an MSW who is thinking about getting an MLIS, I have a solid career path?

Seriously, though, when Seattle built its spanking new shiny flashy billionfuckingdollar library downtown a few years ago, I recall being astounded that at the same time (or close to it), Seattleites were rejecting the idea of a day center for the homeless where they could shower, defecate, do laundry, hang out, etc. WTF SEATTLE?!?!
posted by tristeza at 6:37 PM on April 3, 2007


Even free housing wouldn't help most of the people referenced in the article. They're mentally ill and need constant supervision. My former boss had a son who was schizophrenic. He was part of that move in the 1980s to put them out of hospitals and "re-situate" them in society. Mike was fine when he took his meds, but the problem was he'd take them for a while, then decide he didn't need them anymore (because he felt fine). He'd stop taking them and go through another manic phase where he stopped bathing, heard voices, and wandered the streets. His dad got him a place in a group home, but Mike kept wandering off (by law they couldn't restrain him there). My boss put Mike in the psych wards at various hospitals, but they all had a 45-day limit (so many patients waiting to get in, etc). He didn't want to put Mike in the state mental hospital (a true "snake pit" facility), so he'd bring him with him to the office every day. During one of his stays in the psych ward of an upscale suburban hospital, he wandered out into the hallway and hanged himself with the cord from a pay telephone. He'd been on suicide watch at the time, checked on every 15 minutes, but of course none of the hospital employees "saw" anything.

The care for psych patients is iffy....workers are not highly paid and it's a mentally and physically draining job. Your patients are combative, they smell, they soil themselves, they're irrational. A lot of aides simply overmedicate or restrain their charges to make their job simpler. I wouldn't want that kind of job, most of you wouldn'[t want it, either. What is the solution? Higher wages for hospital staff? More space in psych wards? I don't know.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2007


I originally used it to parody a kind of lefty attitude that gives me hives, so when jason's_planet seemed to be exhibiting exactly that attitude, it gave me hives. Sorry, j_p.)

No harm done. I was just agreeing with you that those arguments in favor of letting homeless people stink up libraries were stupid and that libraries have a right to maintain basic order and decorum. I apologize if my language was not clear.

Sorry about the misunderstanding.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:56 PM on April 3, 2007


It's odd that while I read this at my local university library, this old guy I see there every night is cursing up a storm in front of the computer saying things like "God is a murdering bastard!" and "Vicisious Son of a Bitch."

No idea if he's homeless or not but this stuff is real.
posted by champthom at 9:04 PM on April 3, 2007


One last thing...I don't know about other systems, but in ours a *really* offensive odour can be cause for asking someone to leave. Of course, we're trained to gently suggest that the person in question visit a YMCA or somewhere else they can shower, etc., but the bottom line is that this sort of thing is considered a violation of the right of other patrons to use the library.

> In the community's opinion the library and its resources = free computer games for 6 hours at a stretch, free bathrooms, a warm place to snog in the winter, and so on and so forth.

Believe me, I hear ya, scratch (if I were King of the Library, the first thing I would do would be to ban, forever, the use of computers to play games)...I guess your system has more troublemakers than mine, but when it comes right down to it the jerks are a fairly small percentage of the total number of people who walk in the front door at the library I work at.

Of course, I've worked extra-hours shifts at a couple of branches where the jerks pretty much ran the place, and after eight hours of that sort of thing I was ready to leave the profession...
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:30 PM on April 3, 2007


They go where they can. I'd go sleep in the library, too, and so would you.

One large problem is that marginal housing (the shanty town) is discouraged. Let people with no money (and perhaps no way to make money because they are completely mad) stake out a place on selected public land. No rousting if they stick to the designated areas and stay within designated size and use limits (don't let someone with money go in and take over the park, for example). Give them fire and police service, pay bus service into town, pay showers and toilets (cleaned by hired homeless folk), rentable post office box numbers, rentable lockers, rentable sleeping-sized metal sheds with good locks, soup kitchens, pay phones and rentable cell phones and voice mail, a traveling medical clinic, etc. All pretty easy on the city (sharing the cost with the homeless) and not a bad option for many of the destitute (dirt cheap but doable living). If all you had to start with was a sleeping bag and a cardboard refrigerator box and a day's begging change, you could use a clean toilet, have a shower, get mail, make a call, get the bus to and from work (or wherever you need to go for money), and get regular physical and mental health check-ups. And people who really wanted to help the homeless (as opposed to just holding socially acceptable views on the subject) would know exactly where to go and what to do.
posted by pracowity at 12:58 AM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why don't libraries carry academic journals? Or high level textbooks?

As long as libraries are financed democratically (i.e. by tax dollars) their offerings are going to be, well, democratic. Because the people paying for the library want Danielle Steele. If you want them to be there for "intellectual improvement" you need rich people who think it's their job to intellectually improve people, and who finance that.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:43 AM on April 4, 2007


The Public library is one of the last places left in this society, that don't involve consumerism or religion and are open to all.

Exactly. While I sympathize with library workers who have to deal with difficult policies and difficult patrons, one of the reasons that society has this problem generally is the total erosion of the public sphere in America. There are few places that people can go, especially in lousy weather, when they don't have a place to go. The fact that we as a society turn this into "The guy next to me smells, the library sucks" is evidence just how far we've fallen from the idea that one of the things that you get in a civilized society is some degree of responsibility for the group -- even the members of the group who can't look after themselves.

A few other library resources for people who are asking themselves "what the hell is anyone doing about this?"

The American Library Association has a Library Services to Poor people policy, this is a non-binding policy guideline concerning the special social needs of poor people and how to serve them in a library setting. It's not without controversy but it's a good read and worthwhile to really consider. In many cases access to library services is severely limited to the poor because of small fees and limits on being able to get a library card without an address or inability to use copiers and printers. I am not saying we need to give everything away for free, but if you're really serving THE PUBLIC, that's the whole damned public, consider that and how to best approach it.

ALA's Hunger Homelessness and Poverty Task Force. Amazing resource page and blog with actual reports, studies and numbers.

One of the reasons dealing with homelessness issues in the US is so difficult is because dealing with class issues is so difficult. It's hard for us to get around the (fake) idea that we have total class mobility in this country, and the idea that there is a perpetual fixed underclass goes against our notions of freedom and individual enterprise even though it goes hand in hand with the craven free market capitalism espoused by or higher levels of government. You know the ones who are slashing social programs and giving money to war profiteers, them.

So, we ignore it, we blame the victims instead of ourselves and we complain about the smell when it's really a symptom of a much larger smellier problem. There is enough money in this country to fix this problem. There is enough money in this country to fix this problem. There is enough money in this country to fix this problem. The question you should be asking is : where is it going now?

amberglow's ideas are good ones. In a dream world with perfectly funded libraries, we would have more of them and they would be in places where people already were -- rich people, poor people, family people, single people -- they would be adequately staffed and supervised so that policies (I'm thinking of the library as babysitter model which is very problematic from a liability standpoint as well as a service to other patrons perspective) could be kindly but firmly enforced. With proper staffing and funding we could make appropriate referrals, we could have space for different sorts of people to enjoy the space in their own way and -- since this is utopia anyhow -- we could send people with mental and/or social problems somewhere where they could get the attention that they needed.

Where I live we don't have a "homeless in the libraries" problem. I live in a small community with small libraries that aren't even open enough hours to really help solve the problems that a homeless person has. Most of the people with chronic mental illnesses go to bigger towns and cities where they have better access to services and programs that can help them. On the other hand, we have a few mentally ill and/or disabled people in our community and the community takes care of them in conjunction with service agencies, churches and, sometimes the library. What sort of messed up place would let people in their communities have to live like we make the homeless live, truly?
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2007 [6 favorites]


“What sort of messed up place would let people in their communities have to live like we make the homeless live, truly?”

Yeah, big part of the problem is they’re not recognized as part of the community. Either socially or economically. Now one can shun social undesirables (just don’t look at them), and that’s abhorant, but it’s not something the government can do much about. Economically - different story. I really don’t know why more fiscal conservatives aren’t on this. The pirate trading capitalists aside - one might want smaller government but we all certainly want more efficient government. Homelessness is not an issue that is going to go away - and whatever the solution, even if it’s the hackney’d hard nosed ‘make the lazy bums work’ there still has to be fuel money for that - or even more realistic - programs. As it is we’re happy to spend a zillion semoleons on a spankin’ new library, but not homeless programs. And little funding to recognize that homeless folks WILL use the library and that is still going to cost money. So we need more cops to move ‘em along. That costs money. So we’ll have to put them on a train or something to get them out of town - still costs money. And when you add all that up - it only treats the symptoms (as well stated above) and all that is still less efficient than spending money directly on services for homeless folks.
Were I to criticize a liberal political position - it would be spending money on services for the homeless at libraries. It’s far less efficient than spending the money directly. It doesn’t recognize the reality that homeless people are part of society and attempts to create bigger - and certainly inappropriate - government mission creep.
However - and it’s a big however - that at least recognizes homeless individuals as part of society. It is therefore a better solution than what’s happening now - which can be indicted for far worse governmental social engineering (is homelessness a crime? Why do the police have to deal with them? Their job is stopping criminals.)
So I would criticise conservatives not concerned with this far more harshly. The absence of a social convention to deal with homelessness is perhaps the strongest indictment against the current American culture. Beyond wars, corporatism, nearly anything else. As such we’ve foisted the problem onto the government with no clear direction. Why is anyone surprised when the machine breaks down and unintended consequences appear?
The first step would be to take ownership of homelessness as a social problem - then recognize as such it has to be a shared economic burden. As it is, Americans seem as jittery and uncomfortable in speaking about it as they do about how much money they make.
“Yes, I love anal sex with my wife, both ways. I love when she uses the strap on on me. We have this hot lube that...”
“Uh, just a second, let me ask - how much money do you make a year?”
“What? What the hell kind of question is that? How dare you!”

Fact is, when someone falls, everyone starts looking around for someone else to pick them up. As wonderful as the people who do bend to help are - they shouldn’t have to. And as long as they do, people can console themselves that someone nice is helping them. (”But me, oh, I don’t have the time. I work.” - usu. emphasis on that last bit. Like it could never be them - same thing with dying). Being poor in the U.S. is the worst social sin there is. If you don’t have money, you don’t have a voice. Reminds me of the old phrase “If you’re so smart how come you ain’t rich?”
Everyone is so fixated on smart children, baby einsteins, etc. so they visit the library as often as they can with their kids. And yet, that’s where the poorest of the poor have to hang out. Irony’s a bitch.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2007


A lot of us feel that's one of the reasons we have a government at all--to provide for those who don't/can't for themselves. We'd much rather our tax money go to helping others rather than endless wars or crony capitalism.
posted by amberglow at 2:30 PM on April 5, 2007


“A lot of us feel that's one of the reasons we have a government at all--to provide for those who don't/can't for themselves”..cronism/war’

But it’s not a one or the other problem. I’ll agree it’s a matter of emphasis there. But as to whether the homeless should be embraced at all there’s no question. So then it becomes a matter of how. As I do not agree with the prosecution of war without regard to corruption or inefficiency, so too I can’t agree with giving services to the homeless without the same regard.

Now I grant there’s not the same incentives there - but as I’ve said, that’s a social problem and mantained as such because of economic interest.
In exactly the same way - there are economic incentives for war - and we have a social order set up to facilitate that.

I think in both cases they’re artificial. And I’d argue it’s a failing of liberalism to address the economic implications of it. You can’t plug money into something just cause it’s nice for people. It has to be properly applied (money does). Otherwise you wind up with the situation as it sits - competition for grant funding, having to prove all sorts of arbitrary standards, etc. etc.

None of that eliminates my greater criticism of conservativism to address the social end.
It might sound like convoluted logic to assert that providing for people who can’t/won’t for themselves is a social, not a government problem, but it is.

What makes it sound convoluted is that ‘conservatives’ use terms like ‘smaller government’ and ‘community based’ whatsit without recognition that there has to be community money for such things as opposed to relying on community compassion.
Compassion is localized - money can be applied anywhere.
So the localized need would drive funding. The more compassionate folks you have (compassionate being willing to help the homeless) the more money you would get.
Instead the problem is treated like....well, you’ve seen the homeland defense money crap. People in Wyoming getting anti-terrorist funding just in case The Base wants to blow up a statue of some dog that saved some podunk town. Now that’s political b.s. and pork, but it’s the same “help people/give them money” philosphy.

The program has to spring from the local community. You can’t force it on people. F’rinstance - lots of people in, say, Lake Forest (affluent suburb out here) might work with homeless folks. That doesn’t mean they want them in their town. And indeed, it doesn’t mean the town is conducive to services for homeless folks.
Other towns, with better public transportation services, might be.

So the local community would drive the program - based on need and willingness and population - and thus they would get funding. The stronger the social support, the more community dollars they would get. And that would be self-reciprocating. More social workers would go there. There’d be more jobs and training (medical clinics, abuse counselors, social workers, etc.) and then more money for jobs.

If it’s government driven the fed steps in and says “you need to do this because it’s good for people” then some guy is appointed to write grants and try to get the money the fed puts up - it just doesn’t work well.

I get what you’re saying, and yes, it’s what the government is for - but as a tool, not as a master. Is that clear? I mean it recognizes that some people, in some places, just don’t want to hear about or see homeless folks. Which - ok, they can live in gated communities, whatever. But that doesn’t mean they have the right - and I think we agree here - not to contribute to the community. And that’d be tax dollars.
There has to be a recognition that while the government has the right to tax, it doesn’t have the right to legislate morality (or compassion).
I am technically pro-choice for the same reasons. I morally oppose abortion and support programs to prevent it (adoption, counseling, etc.) But I would not support a law preventing it because that makes the government the arbiter of morality (and is invasive of individual rights).

If I’m Joe Mayor - why should my town spend more money on the homeless when the next town doesn’t?
Well, by your (granted oversimplified here) ethos, they should because it’s the right thing to do.
And if they decide not to, because the influx of homeless people to the sudden availability of services - do we force them?
In that case - we have unfunded mandates now. They’re really tearing up the school system (for example) and putting undue property tax burdens on local homeowners.

No, the funding has to come first. And for that to happen it has to be uncoerced. Government has to be a tool in that respect. And there are methods to develop economic incentives to do that. Once that happens people can decide for themselves whether they want the extra jobs, funding, etc. or whether they’d rather not see/smell/hear homeless folks in the neighborhood.
Once they make that decision (and many towns/cities will realize ‘hell, we’ve got homeless people here anyway’) it will become a self-reciprocating social order.

Just look at the prison system or military bases. I mean it’s not a nice thing, but lots of money/jobs/etc. there. And you have local reps petitioning all the time to bring one in or keep one there - because people want them.

Same kind of social machine. Without that social support it’s drudgery. Believe me. It’s work no one wants to do. Forcing them is the worst thing. Create an economic self-interest for it and people will build a social support system around it.
Hell, just look at the rise of hospices. The fed put a little bit of extra money into that and some people have turned their homes into hospices. And little communities have built up around them with all kinds of support systems and social networks.
Something like that vs. forcing the creation of something from the outside.
Bam - community center - here you go. Now apply for funding to keep it going.

Your - better helping people than war and corruption thing - well, obviously. But it’s all in the execution. Hell, I have hundreds of really good and interesting ideas. Doesn’t mean I’m Hemmingway.
It’s all in the how. And it should be done right if it’s going to be done, and done so it can sustain itself - that is socially, as an institution. A sort of “this is how we take care of these people.” And the government would adapt to support it.
We certainly don’t have a tradition of hospitality anywhere near as sophisticated (or as old) as some of the Muslim countries.
And of course the political will has to be there. But that’d come easy if they realized they can bring more jobs and such to their constituency.
And then instead of competing within, social services could compete with defense contractors, prisons, agraculture, etc. etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:16 PM on April 5, 2007


it's not legislating morality or compassion--it's actually to the practical and tangible and visible benefit of everyone in those communities, and in our greater society.

We have to have federal programs that work nationwide and mandate things that localities wouldn't bother with if they were left to their own devices--nothing is truly local. It's the mix between fed and state and local that actually makes things like libraries and public schools and streetlights and highways and stuff operate. Social Services, supported housing, public housing, etc--all federal at their essence. Think of it as something like Head Start, another federal program (from Nixon) that does all its work in localities.
posted by amberglow at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2007


“It's the mix between fed and state and local that actually makes things like libraries and public schools and streetlights and highways and stuff operate.”

amberglow - I think you’re fixated on defending liberalism. We don’t disagree on the basic issue. The only place we’re not connecting is in the longevity of certain methods of execution. My contention is that there isn’t enough attention paid to efficiency and social institution by liberal politicians (typically Dems - who often are trying to get SOMETHING done over opposition to anything they do) and there isn’t enough attention paid to the benefits of federal oversight and - as you point out - benefit to the local community by conservative (more and more rarely GOP, but, it’s the standard) politicians.

The point being - there’s no question it's to the practical and tangible and visible benefit of everyone in those communities, and in our greater society. That’s not the issue. The issue is how. My assertion is that without a social institution - whether created through incentive or organic - any government program is subject more to political will than any other factor.
Don’t like this new - ‘x’ bill? Howabout we cut your funding for highways? Happens all the time.

Now I’ve speculated on several methods, but I’m happy with whatever sort of program you might care to map out to take care of the homeless. That’s not the issue I’m pointing out.
The issue is - people in the U.S. do not have ANY social convention to take care of homeless people. None.
And when I speak of social institution there are certain institutions that are so ingrained in our society we don’t even question them.
For example - the authority of the family.
Are there children who would be better served, have better lives, and ultimately be better citizens were they raised by the state? Certainly. Do we do that? No. Only in the most dire circumstances with the DCFS take a child away. Do they take a child away if the parents are loving and kind, but teach the child evolution is wrong and the Earth is only 4,000 years old? Nope. Hell, I can raise my kid as a scientologist. We have people in the U.S. who refuse to use technology beyond a certain level, the state allows and accomodates this because it’s a social order. It’s certainly not benefiting everyone.

Freedom of religion, is guaranteed by the constitution, but it is also a social institution such that even the craziest ideas - as long as they are not manifestly harmful - are tolerated socially (albeit that’s oft-lamented in some quarters).
There are others.
Property rights for example. A man’s home is his castle. It’s a cliché - but that it is one proves my point. Do we really even need the third amendment? It’s a social order. People would riot if we started putting troops or cops in their homes.

So we perfectly agree that this is a community problem, and that addressing it benefits the community entire. I take that one step further and assert that people must be shown how they benefit and thus have incentives to participate and it must become a social institution so that in 10 years or 30 years the program isn’t simply de-funded and/or cast away by the whim of whatever government is in power - as was manifestly done under the Reagan administration (et.al).

I see any act of the government - under any circumstances, even those which are designed to - and may even - benefit me as ultimately an act of force.
Emminant domain for example is designed to ‘help the community’ for ‘everyones’ benefit’.
Think the homeowner who’s getting kicked out of the home they’ve lived in for 50 years sees it that way? No matter how much money you shove in front of them?
Now method there is debatable which is why I pretty much set it off to the side.
What isn’t debatable is that it is temporary. Not in the individual act but as a standing act of force - even when truly benevolent.
The next administration can come in and shut whatever it is down. Or change it to suit their political needs.
And bottom line that’s the problem and that’s been the problem for a long time.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2007


I see any act of the government - under any circumstances, even those which are designed to - and may even - benefit me as ultimately an act of force.

Most Americans, thankfully, don't see everything govt does that way. Most social programs (SS and Medicare especially) that help those in need enjoy massive popular support, because we all either may or definitely will need them someday ourselves. Unemployment insurance and food stamps too.
posted by amberglow at 1:51 PM on April 6, 2007


“Most Americans, thankfully, don't see everything govt does that way.”

Really? A law isn’t ultimately predicated on force? What, then constrains anyone to act in accordance with them?
Say ‘social contract’ and you’ve proven my point.

“Most social programs (SS and Medicare especially) that help those in need enjoy massive popular support, because we all either may or definitely will need them someday ourselves.”

And that refutes what, exactly? And I’m in opposition to that assertion - where?
By your statement then, homelessness services don’t enjoy massive popular support because we may not or definitely won’t need them someday ourselves?

I’ve argued (above) that people need to be disabused of that notion. I would further assert there are social conventions supporting social security and medicare and unemployment insurance - indeed the massive backlash against the Bush administration for even considering changing policy on social security proves that.

There is no similar social convention for helping the homeless. There should be. Money from the government would help. Mandates are what we have now and they’re (manifestly) not working. I don’t know how much clearer I can make that. It doesn’t matter how wonderful other programs are. It doesn’t matter that there is a war going on. Or Bush is evil or any number of other things. The problem has been there for a long time. It hasn’t been fixed through many administrations and many congresses. Capitalism, other issues might have bearing, but none of that changes the fact that there’s no social recognition of the problem and there should be. Nor does it change the fact that homeless folks are not currently being well served by the system. Nor does it change the fact that they haven’t been well served for quite some time. Otherwise they wouldn’t have to sit in libraries all day.
If you can pose an argument that there should not be a social convention to support homelessness, and such a convention would impede, not aid, government support in some way, I’d love to hear it.
Otherwise, you haven’t said much I disagree with.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:28 PM on April 6, 2007


Most Americans do in fact want homeless people helped....many polls have borne this out for ages (see here under "Providing more generous government assistance to the poor", for just one nat'l poll--they all invariably show favor for more govt. assistance). There's plenty of social convention both public and private for helping those less fortunate, in all sorts of ways.

Personal distaste for teen moms and poor moms has not stopped govt. funding for food stamps or WIC or free children's health insurance. There's not a connection with distaste for the homeless preventing aid for them.
posted by amberglow at 4:40 PM on April 6, 2007




“There's not a connection with distaste for the homeless preventing aid for them.”

So instead of debating the efficacy of a social institution, you want to argue that one already exists? Ok. I’m going have to strongly disagree with you there.
A study conducted by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found for example that among 61 cases of community opposition towards facilities associated with homelessness, 21 resulted in halting projects being designed or implemented, 6 resulted in existing facilities being forced to close, and 2 resulted in coerced moves.
That’s nimby.
And efforts to exclude housing and services for homeless people has been pretty well documented for a while.

Polls might show - conceptually - what people want. People have shown however they don’t want the reality, at least not in their backyard. The perception is homeless programs and low-income housing lowers property values - understand, I’m not arguing they do or don’t (although evidence shows they do) merely that this is the perception.
Meanwhile the demand for emergency shelters (libraries, bus stations, parks, etc.) have gone up while more people are being turned away from non-traditional shelters.

And local communities - whether they’re all for programs in the polls, continue to stigmatize and criminalize homelessness. Again, it’s a growing trend because people don’t want them in their backyards (nimby), whether they favor spending increases or not, whether they recognize it as the most significant problem or not. There are more and more violent acts and acts of exploitation on homeless people and that’s up 30 percent from 1999.

Me, I don’t see a lot of people getting my back when I help out homeless vets. So you’re argument that “most Americans do in fact want homeless people helped” runs contrary to my experiance. Maybe in Seattle, other places. Not as far as I’ve seen in Chicago. As far as I’ve seen most people give a kind word - at best - and nothing else. And I’m not in an office in some foundation, I’m there on the street. But that’s anecdotal.

And if all kinds of folks want services for the homeless - who then is holding up the works? the government. (communities continue to send the message "good will to all, but
not in my backyard").

On polls - ok, maybe some people don’t say they think of homeless folks as lazy or irresponsible or unintelligent or that they’re on the streets by choice. A lot of people who don’t call black men niggers still lock the doors when a black guy walks by their cars on the street. But what people say is not culture. It’s what they do.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:30 PM on April 6, 2007


And, I don’t mean this in a bad way amberglow, but do you have a problem with me or something? I mean you’re being perfectly reasonable here and police and indeed you have well documented and reasonable arguments, but your underlying assumption seems to be I don’t want services for the homeless or something.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2007


*polite...agh, can't type.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:33 PM on April 6, 2007


And, I don’t mean this in a bad way amberglow, but do you have a problem with me or something?

Not at all! Not ever!

I disagree with you, and think your attitude is defeatist (given that it's about other people's attitudes instead of developing programs and services for a community that desperately needs them), but we're in a period of cutting of services and programs (or giving the money to churches instead, which is wrong), so we won't see change til a new administration, i hope. Edwards is already talking about stuff like this, so hopefully there's hope for progress.
posted by amberglow at 8:54 PM on April 6, 2007


Ok, no problem.

See, I think the thing is I'm not really clearly explaining the philosopical thing here. I'm not about dealing with the attitude "instead of developing programs and services for a community that desperately needs them" - I'm arguing depending on a "new administration" to do something is just riding a roller coaster.
Ok, so next cycle - after 4 years of Edwards, say, someone else gets in and cuts programs and we're back to square one. Or maybe not, but we're not - demonstrably not - going to have administrations perpetually friendly to it.
So I'm saying it's the attitude that has to change - but not merely the attitude, the fundimental way the country looks at homelessness.
If we get that changed, and I'm in no way defeatist about that otherwise I wouldn't be working for it - politicians won't touch it. Much like social security.
It would be a matter of 'how' do we deal with this - not 'if' as it pretty much is now. It just gets swept under the rug. Or rather, into the library.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:50 PM on April 6, 2007


I think the attitudes have changed, especially in cities, where it's not NIMBY so much as the high cost of real estate and overburdened and understaffed social services. I see new and effective programs popping up all over the country, and more and more attention being paid.
We're stuck with our lousy political system, but the bully pulpit can really help, even if it's then cut by a GOP administration. Local officials are even more important.
posted by amberglow at 10:32 AM on April 8, 2007


Once you build supported housing, that doesn't disappear with a new administration. It's a gain forever. It's getting that stuff built and coordinated that's the tough part.
posted by amberglow at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2007


“We're stuck with our lousy political system, but the bully pulpit can really help, even if it's then cut by a GOP administration.”

Agreed. Although I see a lot of developers throwing a lot of money around. Politically et.al.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:12 AM on April 9, 2007


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