For homeless people facing the blustering cold of winter or the sweltering heat of summer, climate-controlled public libraries often provide a haven from the elements. In response to the increased presence of homeless people, librarians throughout the United States have reached out to help.
``It's not so much that libraries have chosen this role in the community as it is that the homeless have chosen the library as a place where they are treated with dignity,'' says Eleanor Jo Rodger, executive director of the Public Library Association in Chicago.
Some libraries have policies against using the facility as a place to sleep. But many have taken bold steps to help the beleaguered homeless.
City libraries in Fayetteville, N.C., San Diego, and Memphis operate referral services to guide the homeless to social service agencies.
The Tulsa (Okla.) City-County Public Library System joined with other community service agencies to establish the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless. Funded by private sources, the center provides reading materials, clothing, food, shower facilities, counseling, and medical help.
In Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee federal grants helped establish reading rooms in homeless shelters.
A new library in Haverhill, Mass., will include a ``community room'' designed for the town's homeless. It will provide sofas, easy chairs, newspapers, magazines, and paperback books
The San Francisco Public Library now provides library cards to the homeless as well as those with a permanent address. The library also offers story hours and films for children at city shelters.
``Public libraries are aware of the homeless populations in their cities and counties,'' Rodger says, ``and are trying very hard to provide services for them within the confines of their mission.''