Libraries are for Everyone

With a lot of help from Captain Jason Rogers

Years ago, I worked in the Scottsbluff library. I remember one winter when a family of children would come in right after school every day and stay until we closed the building. They would head off into the dark on foot when we locked the doors at 7:00. I think there were about four of them, the oldest being middle school aged. They were nice kids, and well-behaved. 

Suddenly, those kids quit closing down the library every day. In fact, they quit coming in altogether. Shortly after this I remember reading in the paper that a woman had died and left behind four children with the same names as these kids. I don’t know how the kids were spending their nights, but they spent their evenings through supper-time in the warmth of the library.

People use libraries in different ways. Some people are here to check out items to use at home, others come to use the wifi or printing equipment, and some to read the newspaper. Others use libraries as a means to keep in touch with what is going on around them. Some people come to the library because they feel it’s a safe space, and others because it’s temperature controlled, and out of the elements.

People find themselves without a home for a variety of reasons. Some reasons may make sense to us, and other reasons may leave us scratching our heads. Economic changes, abusive home situations, substance abuse, and untreated mental health illness are common circumstances that lead a person to become homeless. According to statistics from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night over 2,200 Nebraskans are homeless. If you look further into these numbers, you will see that 6% are veterans, and 5% are people under age 25.  

These numbers don’t account for the many people who have insecure housing, or live in their vehicles. Examples of insecure housing are a person living in a camper on another person’s property or frequently staying at different people’s homes (commonly referred to as couch surfing). 

When it comes to people who are experiencing homelessness, Scottsbluff and Gering have the same problems that larger cities do. The lack of housing and homeless shelters in our area exacerbates the stress homeless people experience.

Hunger is another issue many people in the area face. Every day of the week a different church hosts a free meal for those who can’t afford to buy food. Unless people know this information, they could go long periods of time without any nutrition. 

Untreated mental illness is often a driving factor for homelessness. Mental illness increases the difficulty the homeless have of accessing resources. It also complicates implementing life-changing treatments. All of these issues can, and do, drive the homeless to commit crimes that they might not otherwise commit. 

They are simply trying to survive. 

Libraries are for everyone, and many different demographics of people take advantage of our services. Folks may find themselves beside someone they would not otherwise encounter in their daily routine. It’s a good reminder that we are all in different places in our lives. We don’t what to forget that sometimes kids experience housing insecurity too. 

Public libraries are one of the few places people can hang out without the expectation of a purchase. They are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The public part means everyone is welcome. 

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