Last week, amidst the budget-mandated closure of the Seattle Public Library system, I reached out to several downtown homeless support agencies that provide day services and asked if they'd experienced an uptick in demand. While far from scientific or conclusive, at least two prominent agencies reported a noticeable increase in visitors seeking services.
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.
In response to the post, a self-proclaimed librarian pointed out that there is likely more evidence and data that could have been utilized to answer the question of whether or not the closure of the Seattle Central Library leads the homeless to seek out other services offered in the city.
Commenter srcsmgrl writes:
The library has been closing during this week for the last 4 years. Seems like there might be some historical data that these shelters and services could show. (says the librarian)