I've always found it bracing to see all the homeless guys hanging out at the downtown library. Most of them actually read or pretend to, evoking the classic notion of libraries as universal portals of intellectual upward mobility. The scruffy types have never gotten in my way, and any odors that may waft are nothing compared to what you breathe at close quarters on the bus.
But I know others feel differently; one bibliophile friend says she now avoids the library because of the street people. And she's not the only one, according to city librarian Deborah Jacobs. Two months ago Jacobs wrote City Council member Nick Licata, whose committee oversees the library, about the growing numbers of folks "regularly using the library as a hygiene facility, a shelter from the cold or a place to pass the time." She added that "this usage" was discouraging the donations upon which the library depends to complete its rebuilding and renovation scheme: "Many prospective donors are reluctant to give money to support a Central Library that they perceive as a day facility for the homeless."
Jacobs may be presuming a little; queried further, she says, "No one's said they aren't donating because of the homeless people. One donor had concerns, but gave anyway. During planning meetings and the Libraries for All campaign we heard people say, 'Why should we build a central library if it's going to be a homeless shelter?'"
On the other hand, why would we want to build a library that's not open to all? And what does "Libraries for All" mean if all aren't welcome? After parks exclusion, bans on sidewalk sitting and aggressive panhandling, and the displacement of downtown's cheap hotels and taverns, will a "library exclusion ordinance" be the next step? "It's all incremental," says Peter Steinbrueck, the council's most persistent skeptic of such strategies. "There are more homeless on the street and fewer places for them to go."
Jacobs and downtown library chief Jill Jean don't talk of restricting access, but they are cracking down on unsuitable "behavior." Jean says her staff shares notes with the Downtown Seattle Association on local notables, so "we're aware if X is off his medication." They've stopped providing chess sets, formerly a popular pastime at the second-floor reading tables; Jean says matches sometimes turned violent, and "whole gangs" formed around them.
The library is in a bind. Why should it be the de facto dumping ground for a city that refuses to face up to its homeless needs? But how can it avoid being so without betraying the "Public" in its name? Jacob urges that "the City make some other kind of facility available for day use by the homeless population." Not to mention showers and laundry, so transients won't have to scrub in the library rest rooms. And like others, she looks to the new Civic Center to do that.
Last week, Licata forwarded Jacobs' letter to his fellow council members and asked if they "might want to pursue some kind of facility available for day use by the homeless" in the new center, which will replace the dilapidated Muni and Public Safety buildings. Trouble is, the council and the government panel overseeing the Civic Center already disposed of the issue. They decided not to include homeless services in the center's first phase; the prevailing view seemed to be one expressed by council member Richard Conlin that building facilities would institutionalize homelessness, for which the city should instead seek a "permanent solution." Thus is the perfect the enemy of the good.
The Civic Center's second phase is supposed to have a lunch program and emergency winter shelter space. But these will merely replace lunches and emergency shelter that are already provided in the Public Safety plaza and Muni Building lobby. And Phase 2 won't even be designed until 2002. There's no thought of building the sort of day shelter that might relieve both the library and its less-welcome patrons.
Council member Martha Choe, who's on the Civic Center panel, wrote back to Licata that "based on the Council's earlier decision," she couldn't foresee "revisiting" the issue. But Conlin is now more receptive. With no "permanent solution" in sight, he says, "certainly we have to do something now. We'll have to look at Phase 1 again."
Wag the dog
We knew the opening of SoDo—er, Safeco—Field would be hyped higher than a Griffey pop-up, but the Eastside Journal surpassed expectations. Forget banner headlines—the July 15 Journal was buried in a 12-page "Safeco Field Opens Today" section, with the paper's logo tellingly obliterated by a computer-art baseball ripping through it. For those who still cared, a small teaser noted, "Complete newspaper inside."
The wrapper's lead story was a list: "50 Great Things About Safeco Field." It omitted one more: It's not in Bellevue. Maybe it should be.
59 and counting
A few more Great Things About Safeco Field the Eastside Journal neglected to mention:
* It's in SoDo, even though it isn't called SoDo Field.
* They didn't name it "Boeing Field."
* Next to it, the Kingdome doesn't look so big and overbearing.
* Those who live or work in Pioneer Square and the International District will still have plenty of wild dodge-'em fun driving and parking on game days.
* Even if it doesn't get to host monster-truck rallies, it would work great. Imagine how that grass would fly. . . .
* Its brick walls recall all the venerable buildings that got razed and the businesses that got moved to build it.
* Junior, A-Rod, and the rest won't hit so well outdoors, making them more affordable.
* The giant metal mitt by Jerry Tsutakawa has a hole in the middle—an omen for Mariners fielding?