Homeless Man Mug.jpg
Thanks to citywide budget cuts, the Seattle Public Library system has been closed since Monday, Aug. 27, and will remain closed until Tuesday, Sept. 4.

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Where Do the Homeless Go When the Library Is Closed?

Homeless Man Mug.jpg
Thanks to citywide budget cuts, the Seattle Public Library system has been closed since Monday, Aug. 27, and will remain closed until Tuesday, Sept. 4. While the closure saves the city roughly $613,000, it also - obviously - cramps the style of those who frequent Seattle's libraries. And that includes the homeless.

When it's open, many people utilize the downtown Seattle Central Library. That includes those battling poverty and homelessness. While there are rules and security measures in place designed to keep the Central Library from becoming a full-on shelter, it's commonplace for the homeless to seek refuge at computer terminals and amidst the stacks during foul weather - or even just to pass the time until real homeless shelters open in the evening. It's a reminder of the hardships many of our city's most downtrodden face on a daily basis, and also, sadly, something of an accepted fact of life for urban living.

So where do the homeless go when the library closes for over a week?

While far from scientific, there's anecdotal evidence to suggest Seattle's daytime social service programs for the homeless have experienced a noticeable uptick in the number of people looking for help during this week's library closure.

Ronni Gilboa, a program manager at Seattle's Urban Rest Stop - which offers restrooms, shower and laundry facilities, referral services and general information to the homeless and low-income individuals and families - says during the first few days of the budget-mandated library closure the program experienced roughly a 12-to-15 percent increase in visitors each day.

"The Urban Rest Stop is always operating at maximum capacity," explains Gilboa via email. "The impact of the library closing means longer lines, longer waiting times and larger numbers of people being refused services, as we do not have sufficient capacity to offset the library closures."

Of course, it's important to note that the increase in demand for services at the Urban Rest Stop can't be definitively linked to the closure of the Central Library, Gilboa isn't the only person who describes such a scenario.

Seattle's Compass Housing Alliance offers a wide-ranging list of services to those battling poverty and homelessness - including shelters, transitional housing, permanent low-income housing, along with day services like showers, laundry services, mail services, savings accounts and warm cups of coffee.

Lindsey Lund, the communications coordinator for Compass Housing, says while it "obviously can't directly linked it to the library closure," the agency has also experienced an increase demand this week, specifically pointing to a spike in those utilizing the agency's daytime services. It's a trend that would seem to bolster the notion that homeless people who might normally head to the library for refuge are seeking out other avenues for help instead.

At the Compass Housing Alliance Day Center on Third Avenue, the last week of the month is routinely the busiest; Lund says the center serves an average of 275-300 people a day during this time. Comparing the last week of current month to the last weeks of June and July, numbers collected by Lund point to more people coming through the doors looking for help. After checking with a staff member at the Day Center, Lund reports an 11 percent increase in visitors on Monday, and a 28 percent increase on Tuesday, when 378 people were served.

"This explains why we had a lunch time food shortage yesterday and our consumption of regular staples (plates, coffee, creamer, cups, sugar, paper towels, t/p, etc.) has increased drastically," writes the Day Center staffer.

Despite the additional challenges presented by an increase in visitors - whether library related or not - those driven to help people suffering from poverty and homelessness seem inclined to keep grinding for the cause.

"No matter the increase(s), we welcome everyone, because this is why we are here and this is what we do!" writes the same Compass Housing Alliance Day Center staffer quoted above.

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