libraries are more than houses for books


the homeless problem

In downtown San Rafael we have a couple of problems. Seemingly un-related problems. Depending on how you look at it, the first problem is homelessness (with a side of NIMBYism). You might not think that poverty and homelessness would be an issue in Marin County. You’d be wrong. Unfortunately for those that do fall into the economic cracks, there are few services that offer help. One of the organizations that exists to support the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless, Ritter Center, lives in a swirl of controversy. Those that fall into the NIMBY court want to see it closed down or at the very least moved from downtown San Rafael (where it is conveniently located near transit, shops, etc). The rest of us wonder exactly how poverty and homelessness will be resolved by eliminating services or making them impossible to access.

the library problem

Meanwhile, a mile or so away, our public library is sadly outdated, under-sized and not representative of today’s needs. There is conversation underway to build a new larger library that will reflect the needs of the community. At one point there was conversation about building the new library near our existing community center. But our existing community center has an ongoing problem with the homeless spending their days nearby.

a twofer solution

So, what to do? There is talk about building a big new library that is ‘green’, beautiful, an architectural marvel, full of technological wonders, classrooms and the like. All goals that should be incorporated into our new public library. But I’d like to suggest that we think bigger and include services and accommodations that will benefit the entire public, not just part of the public. This could be a win-win for the homeless as well as the homed.

pub·lic /ˈpəblik/
of or concerning the people as a whole. “public concern”
ordinary people in general; the community. ‘the library is open to the public’

San Francisco has done just this by hiring a social worker to work with the homeless who use the library for shelter. The SF program includes hiring and training the homeless to be part of the solution by working at the library. And San Francisco is not alone. Denver, Dallas, DC, Tucson, San Jose, Portland and Philadelphia all have programs in place to work with their homeless populations.

San Rafael has an ideal opportunity to join the ranks of these forward thinkers. Remember my old rant….design is about solving problems, it is not just about being pretty. Let’s not try to just be pretty here.

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