Safe Spaces: Part Deux


I’ve been trying to write in the local public libraries around my job because they stay open late, but the public-ness of the library has been causing problems for me as of late. Please do not misconstrue this post. It may come off as humorous or mean-spirited. That is not my intention. What is intended me giving voice to my frustrations about the homeless situation in NYC getting worse and the problem spilling over into the NY Public Library system. It’s reached insanity levels.

The Mid-Manhattan Library was my haunt for a few years now. I love nothing better than to sit down, plug in and write away the hours. There was enough space between me and the homeless that I could sit down wind and tolerate their presence. While I typed, the random homeless person would sit quietly reading a book or magazine that interested them or maybe slept quietly. But as time went on, I noticed a disturbing trend. More and more homeless had cellphones and the library became the place for them to come and recharge, taking up prime outlet access for a patron’s laptop. Now I understand that when you are homeless the cellphone is a literal lifeline to the family members you still connect with and to necessary social services and possible job or home opportunities. I get it! But all too often, the homeless person would just be on their watching their favorite tv show or movie (sometimes without headphones!) and reacting loudly to it, disturbing those around them.¬†With the return of Gulf War vets, I have seen a rise in more angrier, self-talking homeless who are too far gone to abide by the rule of not talking loud in the library. And because of their menacing demeanor, have come to monopolize whole sections of a library.

The Mid-Manhattan branch was very old. It’s rickety elevator leaks oil. It did not have enough outlets to accommodate today ubiquitous laptop use. This branch is now closed for renovations that will take at least two years. So I had to find another library branch.

Enter the Grand Central Branch. It’s a bit more modern, but much smaller than the Mid-Manhattan. I like the cozy atmosphere. But just as I made the switch to the Grand Central Branch, so too did the homeless. Now we are all in a much smaller space, so the negative issues have been magnified tenfold.

Hogging up deskspace with torn bags stuffed with newspapers. Occupying chairs with dirty luggage filled with the totality of worldly possessions. The stench of unwashed bodies on all sides. The putrid smell of bare athlete’s foot. It all became so frustrating that I was overwhelmed to the point that I couldn’t concentrate to write.

As I stated in a previous post, I can’t seem to write at home. I can’t seem to shut out the distractions and I get too comfortable there.

But what could I do? I couldn’t go to a Starbuck’s because of limited outlets and limited table space. Going to Panera, was more of the same, but compounded by workers harassing you for your seat once you finished eating. I have no problem paying for food or coffee to stay in these establishments, it’s an effective way to keep the homeless away. But I want to save my cash.

So these days, I have resorted to writing in a small, but cozy out of the way meeting room at my job. It has a good size round table for three chairs, with AC outlets, and sound proofing. So far no one has said I can’t be there. A new refuge is born!

In the meanwhile, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means against the homeless or their right to spend time at the public library, but there comes a tipping point.

I believe there should be low income housing to house the homeless. Housing prices in big cities has gotten ridiculous while the rich continue to price everyone out. There should be safe shelters for the homeless to spend their nights. Along with adequate security, the homeless person should be determined not to be a violent menace. The shelter, where my wife and I have volunteered in the past, vets the homeless men and women before they are allowed to sleep there. There also needs to be a mental health component in helping the homeless, because so many of them suffer from mental health issues that range from PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. Unfortunately, our American society deals with mental health by stigmatizing it and ignoring those afflicted. Don’t forget that many homeless people also suffer from addiction. So in dealing with homelessness there needs to be a substance recovery component as well.

Today, libraries have become the daytime sanctuary for the homeless, so much to the point that the library going experience has become quite negative, and that’s truly unfortunate. But while we try to better our society to alleviate homelessness, the homeless need to understand that the public library shouldn’t be treated as their daytime daycare center. We all need to share public spaces and respect each other.