The lessons beyond the books at the downtown library

The lessons beyond the books at the downtown library

Some people come to the downtown library to learn with their children.

“It's terrific,” says Mark Ross, a Dallas resident.

He and his wife bring their children to the library twice a week for programs for home-schooled kids.

Ross and his older daughter take violin lessons every Thursday.

“The classes they offer are pretty phenomenal,” Ross says. “I never thought I’d be learning violin.”

Some people come to read. Some people come here to try to sleep. Some people come to find help or to take classes.

The library had 700,000 visitors last year.

But beyond the books, the biggest lesson at the Dallas central library is compassion. The nine-story library sits at the edge of downtown. It can’t help but be a magnet for the homeless.

“They’re human beings that are not housed and that’s how we think about it,” Jo Giudice, director of the city’s library system.

There is no doubt that some of the homeless bring problems.

The K2 epidemic is at Giudice’s back door.

Users frequently congregate behind the library. Sometimes they can be found passed out or walking like zombies. 

“This is the same place where kids go to hang out with their parents and do their summer programs and they have to walk past this,” former Dallas police officer Shane Owens said, pointing to a homeless man passed out with a K2 blunt in his hand.

The library’s security guards and staffers make regular rounds outside so the inside can remain a refuge.

Guards and staff members make regular rounds inside, too. Only parents with children are allowed on the children’s floor.

Incidents of violence are relatively rare inside the library, but police body cam footage from earlier this year shows how quickly situations can turn.

A homeless man was caught taking a bath on the fifth floor. He attacked a security guard as he was being escorted out of the library.

“He was literally on top of him when I opened up the elevator,” one security guard says, according to body cam video obtained by WFAA. “He beat the hell out of him.”

The homeless man took the guard’s gun. Luckily for the guard, the homeless man put it back in the guard’s holster.

“He kept making the statement I could have killed him if I wanted to,” another guard says on the body cam footage.

Giudice says changes were made after the incident.

“There was just nothing like that that had ever happened so it was a one off, very unfortunate in the fact that the officer had to go through that,” Giudice says, “but fortunate that it didn't turn into something worse.”

What you may not know is that the city pays for a staff member to monitor and care for the less fortunate.

They library started its homeless engagement efforts in 2013.

“When we started it, I had this assumption which was proven wrong very quickly of we’ll get them a GED. We’ll help them find jobs. We’ll save the world,” Giudice says. “It didn’t quite happen that way and we found out many of our homeless customers have college degrees so it was a real eye opener.”

Homeless advocates frequently come in to work with the homeless.

Giudice herself mentors a young homeless man. If you met him, you wouldn’t now he was homeless, she says.

The young man was disowned for being gay when he was 14. He lived with his grandmother until she died when he was 18. He studies at the library. He’s had some health problems, but Giudice is hopeful he’ll be employed soon.

“He’s a perfect example of ‘life’ happening to a person,” she says.

When Giudice walks around the perimeter of the library, many of the homeless greet her by name.

She kindly greets them back.

“Many of them are just regular humans down on their luck and many of us are one pay check away from that reality,” Giudice says.

She first stops to check on a homeless woman sitting on the ground in front of the library. She tells another homeless man that he can find services inside.

One of them tells her she looks like Sandra Bullock.

“I know her,” says Jason Parks. “She’s a real nice person.”

He’s been criminally trespassed out of the library more than once.

“My mouth gets me in trouble,” he says. “Ask her.”

“That’s sometimes why you get asked to leave the library, right?” Giudice says with a smile.

“Yes,” he says.

Suzanne Glover, who served in the Navy, serves as the library’s homeless coordinator.

“Whatever they need, we want to be able to give them the same services that we give everyone,” she says. “We want to meet those needs.”

It’s a full time job.

Glover helps build resumes, find shelter or even look for a job. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being willing to listen.

She was sitting at the help desk on a recent day when a homeless transgender woman approached. Glover had seen her in distress the week before and was worried about her.

The woman sat down. She told Glover she was driven to drugs by the death of her parents who wouldn’t accept her. She explained that she had been molested by her parents and that’s how she contracted HIV.

“How can I help you?” Glover asked.

"I really don’t know how because I can barely help myself,” she responded.

“What is the first thing you think you need to address?” Glover asked her.

“I say my addiction,” the woman responded.

Glover told her she would work to get her into grief counseling and a trans friendly rehab facility when she was ready.

“One day, you’re going to choose to start some place and what I want you to know is when you choose that day and you don’t know who to call, come to the library and we’ll call someone, OK?” Glover tells her. “I’m glad you stopped in the library today.

The library says it can’t ignore the less fortunate so it’s doing what it can to strengthen their lifeline to help them hang on.

The Erik Jonsson Central Library by the numbers:

  • 689,380 visitors
  • 1,335,447 materials circulated 2,024 programs with 42,639 attendees
  • 769 children’s programs – 18,964 attendees (38% of programming)
  • 1,255 adult/all age programs – 23,675 attendees (55% of the attendees)
  • 116 Homeless Engagement events with 1,303 attendees
  • 235 storytimes with 4,756 attendees
  • 139 staff

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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