Homeless Seeking Shelter in Library as Temperatures Drop

Homeless Seeking Shelter in Library as Temperatures Drop

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Jed Boal Reporting As temperatures dropped this month we all looked for a little extra warmth, but the homeless often draw criticism when they seek shelter in public places. Here's the dilemma: the shelter closes during the day. The homeless need a place to stay warm, but other library patrons often bristle when the homeless linger too long.

Library staff cannot count the homeless who read and relax there, no one wears a label.

Chip Ward, Asst. Director of Salt Lake Public Library: "We really don't know how many we have in here. We have more than three million visitors a years so we can't keep track of everyone."

The library welcomes all and understands that many have nowhere to go.

Chip Ward: "Every urban library in the country tends to be a default shelter in the day."

But the library cannot and will not weed out people by appearance.

Chip Ward: "We try to treat them like any other population we are serving."

As long as they follow the rules for all. No sleeping, no washing in the restrooms, and the staff keeps an eye out for any inappropriate behavior.

Chip Ward: "Whether you're in a three-piece suit or a homeless person, we expect everyone to meet the rules here."

Every once in a while, security sends someone out.

Keron Fullerton, Shelter Client: "People don't want to talk to you, they don't want to look at you."

Karon Fullerton is homeless and often ducks in from the cold at the library. The staff treats her with dignity, which she rarely feels on the streets.

Keron Fullerton: "There's not a whole lot of places you can go to stay warm, they think we're trash, along with just being poor."

The shelter cannot afford to stay open during the day unless it's extremely cold.

Matt Minkevitch, The Road Home Shelter: "A lack of affordable housing is what's creating a concentration of humanity to turn to the emergency shelter system. If we have more affordable housing, we will see a reduction in the number of people who are homeless."

Chip Ward: "They're among us, and they have real needs, and they have a real impact. So, we are trying to deal with that the best we can."

The library director points out they are not social workers and wish they were not designated to handle these issues. But they do handle most of the problems by themselves.

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