“Everyone that walks in that door is on a level playing field”: Lynnette tells us why the library is a safe space for everyone
May 7, 2019
by Erin Taylor
“Why are there so many homeless people in the library? Why are they allowed to be here?” It was a pointed question. The woman asking Lynnette was clearly concerned. Lynnette was used to seeing this woman around — she came into the library about once a week and they’d exchanged ‘hellos’, but this question stopped Lynnette in her tracks. How to answer? The question was loaded. The issue of homelessness in the community — and in this case, the library — was a sensitive one.
As a library services officer, Lynnette was a natural person to approach with this question. She’s warm and approachable, but her dark beige uniform and badge give her an air of authority. She’s also highly visible throughout the library, one of a team of officers tasked with handling safety and security. You can find her making the rounds or standing at the doors as she greets library patrons and ensures anyone entering is abiding by the rules of the library. In other words, she’s a familiar face, one who seems likely to know exactly what was going on.
Lynnette stood in the midst of the quiet bustle of people coming and going, and not far from groups of people bent over computers or browsing bookshelves, and weighed her answer before speaking.
The library, she explained, is a public place in which everyone is welcome. As long as you follow the rules, you can stay as long as you want.
The answer seemed to suffice, but the woman was back the next week, with more questions:
“Isn’t there somewhere else for them to go? This is our library, and we pay taxes.”
Lynnette explained that the library is inclusive — a place where everyone who walks through the door is safe and welcome, regardless of who they are.
Again, the answer seemed to suffice, but only for the time being. The next week, back again, the woman asked:
“What is the city doing about homelessness?”
Lynnette had answers. Spending her days in the library, Lynnette is well-acquainted with the programs put into lace to address the issue of homelessness in Santa Monica. She told her about The People Concern, an assistance organization that comes to the library five days a week to provide information, resources, kind words, and advocacy that leads to case management.
She also told her about the library’s pop-up Resource Fairs, where dozens of assistance providers like Chrysalis, the LA County Department of Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, SHARE! Collaborative Housing, Veterans Affairs, Safe Place for Youth , and St. Joseph Center gather to offer employment services, counseling, healthcare, and housing help to vulnerable individuals seeking guidance.
She also told her that
When it comes to explaining the library’s role in addressing the issue of homelessness, Lynnette is a natural. She’s compassionate, and trustworthy, keeping in mind the safety and wellbeing of every person who walks through those doors, whether they’re housed or not. The inquisitive woman, through her conversations with Lynnette, was getting a good glimpse into some of the nuts and bolts that make up the issue of homelessness in Santa Monica.
Then there came a day when the woman approached Lynnette with a new sense of urgency. She wondered what the woman was going to ask this time, if the woman was upset.
“There’s always a gentleman here,” the woman said, “He’s always wearing flip-flops.” Lynnette held her breath, wondering what would come next. “I brought him a pair of tennis shoes and I can’t find him.”
For the second time, Lynnette was stopped in her tracks. She took a deep breath. It wasn’t a question. The woman was here to help.
The Library: A Place For Connection, Understanding, and Resources
James Baldwin wrote, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
James Baldwin was right. Books diminish the sense of alienation and work to connect us to one another. They cause us to ask larger questions and search for answers. They expand our understanding of ourselves and of others. They teach us that we have a shared experience and that we are all part of humanity. They make us feel less alone. It’s only natural that libraries — which house books — are a place where we can connect to each other not just through the pages of those books, but in the flesh.
The woman who asked questions is proof of that. She connected with Lynnette, and eventually — with those who previously seemed so different from her.
The library is also a place for those without a home to make connections. They find compassion, a dry place to be on a rainy day, and an abundance of resources that can help them — if they choose — to begin the gradual process of working one’s way out of homelessness.
May we all be more like Lynnette, who offers compassion and understanding, and may we also be like the woman, who asks questions that matter.
Be a Part of the Solution
Over 900 people in Santa Monica are without a home on any given day, and they’re as much a part of our community as anyone. The city is working hard to alleviate this crisis, and we’re happy to report that 2,341 contacts were made through the Library’s efforts in 2018.
Still — we need all hands on deck, so we’re inviting you to get involved. To learn more about this issue and what you can do to help, check out our homelessness toolkit, as well as our guide to volunteering and donating and training videos.