Bulletin#55: Housing/Homeless Advocates Weigh-In on New Library & Volunteers Really Needed for U-District Shelter Programs

Story one: U-District Programs Facing Crisis is New Volunteers are Not Found
Story two: Housing and Homeless Advocates Weigh-In on the New Library

Full stories:

"Important Shelter and meal program supported by the Coalition that serves homelesss young adults in U-District really needs volunteers (see below for who to contact and more details)"

We rarely make pitches seeking volunteers for social service programs - but because this program is so valuable serving homeless young adults in the U-District and because it is in such a great need of volunteers - we wanted to ask you if you would consider helping out the ROOTS Young Adult Shelter and Friday night Feed. They are two extraordinary programs that are about to lose a large share of their volunteer corps when the UW school year ends this week. These programs are coordinated and operated under the aegis of the Shalom Zone profit Association, doing business as Rising Out of the Shadows (ROOTS). Located at University Methodist Church, for a number of years now they've been an important lifeline for hundreds of homeless kids. Sinan Demirel is the coordinator. To help out, please consider contact him at 206/979.5621. In Sinan's words: "We REALLY need to find some new volunteers ASAP if we're to stay open. PLEASE forward this to your various e-mail networks and help us avert a crisis!"

"Housing/Homeless Advocates Weigh-In on New Library (see below)"

You've heard all the hoopla about the new downtown library .... who hasn't. Well I thought you might be interested in this little exhange of e-mails between a few housing/homeless advocates who offer their random and/or not-so-random thoughts on the subject. Comments include those from David Bloom, Sinan Demirel, Michelle Marchand, John Fox, and Joe Martin in that order:

David Bloom:

I am tired of all the hype

Sinan Demirel:
I was withholding judgement until seeing the thing, but I too was tired of all the hype, and the extraordinary public expenditure when so many basic needs are going unmet. I did a quick walk through last night and found the place sort of fun and interesting (like going to any other tourist trap), but not particularly moving. It was about what I had  expected - an air of post-modern sterility that just doesn't grab my fancy that much. Mostly, I was concerned about some of the social-control design aspects (a la Mike Davis' Fortress LA), which Michele captures in her screed (see below), much better than I could.

Michele "Nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned screed" Marchand:
Remember when the motto of Seattle used to be "Your city, Seattle"? That motto changed, in about 1999, literally as well as symbolically.

Since Sunday's grand opening of the new Central Library, I've found myself saying to more than one friend: "I'm probably the only one who's talking about how the emperor has no clothes." The library everyone is oohing and ahhing about has problems that either no one is talking about, or they're talking about "library problems" in ways that make me itchy and uncomfortable.

First, let's look at it from a homeless person's point of view. The whole buildup to the opening of the new library has been rife with nasty, underhanded comments about homeless people. And to further contextualize: these underhanded comments about library patronage and homeless people have been made during the same period when the other biggest story in town has been how a new Tent City in the suburbs has been greeted with hysteria, hatred, and threats to the elected leaders and churches who support homeless people.

In an otherwise interesting essay by Jonathan Raban in the Seattle Times, Raban talks about the new library being wonderful for "patrons and the homeless." Now, it's nice that he mentions homeless people at all, but why separate them out as a different "class" from patrons? They're patrons too, who just happen to be homeless.

In a long, interesting feature in Pacific Magazine, the reporter mentions, in passing, the question most frequently asked of City Librarian Deborah Jacobs on the speaking circuit about this new library (and I quote): "Isn't this just going to be a $163 million smelly greenhouse for the homeless?"

Then, I overheard a Real Change editor calling City Attorney Tom Carr about "new trespassing policies for the new library." Carr claims there are no new policies, but that very topic was top-of-the-list on the agenda for the West Precinct Advisory Council last month.

Finally, in the much-touted Library Insert in the P-I--they gave out thousands of copies of it at the gala opening--there's an architectural review by Rebekah Denn, which mentions how the sight-lines to the restrooms are changed so librarians can surveil the bathroom traffic. The men's restroom is pictured, and the caption reads something like "the ugly color chartreuse was chosen to discourage patrons and the homeless from spending too much time in the restrooms."

To say the least, all this is very worrisome--not just to me, but also to homeless people, who are understandably very suspicious of how they will be treated in this brand new, and still-butt-ugly-on-the-outside building. They read the newspapers too--that's one of the reasons they GO to the library. They know what's being said of them. How they are treated--and talked about--will be the true test of this new library and its role, as Jacobs says, as "the centerpiece of our democracy."

Therefore, in the aforedescribed atmosphere, I (and homeless people) ask:

Why are the chairs in the so-called reading rooms so unbearably uncomfortable? And why are there so few of them?

Why are the colors so shocking and alarming?

Why are there no escalators DOWN? (Seriously, there are only up escalators, and it is god-awful hard to find the exits.)

Why are the restrooms so cheesy--and I don't just mean the deliberately-chosen-chartreuse, which is bad enough. The bathroom materials are cheap and crappy, and the restrooms looked totally thrashed by mid-day at the Gala Opening.

Why are the materials they used GENERALLY so cheap and crappy? I read somewhere that that was a deliberate choice, but I bet it was a deliberate choice forced by the complicated exterior design--they had to spend huge amounts on that, and skimp on everything else. A terrible way to pay for pretention. And they'll pay more for their pretention later on, when all their materials need to be upgraded.

And why, oh why, are there places where one could jump down 6 library floors if one so desired? My vertigo was kicking in big time. There will be jumpers at that library, mark my words.

That said, there are things I liked: the children's section is lovely, airy, light, and about ten times the room of the old space. I heard one librarian say it's the largest children's section in any library nationwide.

I LIKE the spiral-of-books, both symbolically and really.

I think it's great that there are something like 600 computers for patron use.

I do think the designers paid attention to making some of the details thought-provoking and clear.

It'll all depend in the implementation.

Patti Smith, when she sang for free at the grand opening of the EMP, shouted, "It's up to you, Seattle. You can allow this to become a jive-ass tourist-trap, or help make it a place that's powerful and gives artists a meaningful chance to create their work."

Viva Patti Smith! We needed HER at the grand opening of the library. (Or someone else who'd put the emperor in his place.)

John V. Fox:
I've haven't been in the place yet....but I, too, am sick and tired of all the hype. It once again demonstrates that Seattle has this extraordinary inferiority complex and indeed envy toward all things New York, European, and cosmopolitan....anything except what is truly indigenous and draws upon what is unique to Seattle culturally, socially, physically, aesthetically. It also demonstrates the power of the maintstream media's hype to ensure that many citizens dutifully line up....regimented and in tune with what someone else defines as hip, cool, and in. Seattle's uniqueness is located in the neighborhoods...it's on the ground and played out in our nabe's which reminds me of what architect, planner, and critic Folke Nyberg said before the library bond proposal was apportioned. To paraphrase a bit and add some of my own thoughts: What could we have done with the amount of dollars spent on this elaborate form of oedipal envy - had we used it or most of it on our neighborhood library system, books, educational materials, computers, films, technicians, staffing, programs, and especially keeping the library open a reasonable amount of hours, and delivering neighborhood based programs etc...etc etc.... Most of all it is a monument to our own sense of inadequacy/inferiority as a city and the lack of originality of our "esteemed" electeds and the corporate liberal establishment....

Joe Martin:
(originally posted in the Seattle PI in response to all the hoopla and a column by Richard Jamieson)

Dear Editor,
Robert Jamieson touches on an inevitable topic: our brand new library and the homeless. No one should be barred from any library, no matter how old or new. But the question concerning any library's relationship with homeless persons has become a looming one in municipalities everywhere in this nation. And as Jamieson states in today's paper, it is a persistent and unresolved problem. The number of homeless people here and elsewhere in the U.S. continues to rise with each year. This country is too busy handing out tax cuts to the rich or dumping billions into the Iraq quagmire to pay much attention to homelessness and many other urgent domestic social needs.

        In Seattle and other American cities, marginalized and disenfranchised people are percieved as a nuisance to be managed and contained with a minimal expenditure of public dollars. Mental health and addiction treatment services are woefully inadequate and perennially underfunded. Unemployment and underemployment are major dilemmas for tens of thousands of citizens in the Northwest. And there is simply not enough affordable housing for the working poor, never mind those who are profoundly disabled and unemployable. The homeless and the myriad social troubles they manifest are, sadly, not disappearing anytime soon. Libraries are one of the few places where homeless persons with little or no money can go, and presumably be welcomed.

So here we are with a brand new library, and understandably Jamieson and others do not want it to transmorgrify into a de facto day and evening drop-in center for the homeless. Granted that no illegal or unlibrary-like behavior should be tolerated, the new Koolhaas structure must ever be a beacon of democratic access to knowledge, ideas, and interests for everybody, rich or poor, who wishes to enter its environs. Also, let us all keep in mind that if our society applied as much ingenuity and support to solving homelessness as we have to constructing this grand new library, we wouldn't be engaged in this controversy at all.

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