Ellensburg Library

Employees at the Ellensburg Public Library attended a seminar recently to address how to handle homeless situations that might come up at the library

Just the fact there is a book titled, “The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness,” tells us we no longer live in a world where the most complicated issue in a library was figuring out the Dewey Decimal system.

Where businesses or private establishments can display signs like, “We reserve the right to refuse service,” or “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” the public domain operates under a different sent of guidelines.

With the growing multitudes of homeless in America, libraries across the country have been seeing more and more people coming in to get out of the cold or use restrooms or the facility as a gathering place. As a result, the city of Ellensburg closed the library for a day and sent its staff to Ray Dowd’s seminar addressing such issues.

Ray Dowd is the executive director of a large homeless center in Chicago. He regularly travels the country training libraries, police, schools and other organizations on how to work compassionately with people experiencing homelessness.

Where the homeless population in Ellensburg is clearly not like Seattle or other major metropolitan cities, the idea of the training is a way to reduce problems or conflict, while being inclusive with the process.

“We have our rules of conduct for everyone to follow,” Ellensburg Library director Josephine Camarillo said. “Historically, the library has been about books, material literature, but now it’s evolved into a gathering place.”

With that concept in mind, people have figured out they can come in and sit in the back or along the walls with no intention of reading a book or magazine or utilizing the audio or visual material available, sometimes catching a nap in a warm place.

Dowd’s seminar addressed how library staff can address situations before it can escalate.

“We train library staff to confidently and compassionately solve problem behavior from troubled individuals,” the website www.homelesslibrary.com reads.

“I would say the big take-way we got from the training is that, basically we’re all the same and we need to treat people equally and with respect,” Camarillo said. “Everyone has their issues whatever they may be. We don’t judge people as long as they stay within our rules of conduct.”

The seminar addressed issues from panhandling to delusion, from sleeping to body odor and empathy-driven enforcement to folks with too many bags. It also gave some ideas as how to approach people and the warning signs when a situation escalates.

But when it comes right down to it, Camarillo said, as long as people behave in a manner that doesn’t interfere with another person’s ability to use and enjoy the Ellensburg Public Library — it’s all good.

The library does offer services that might be helpful, things like shower vouchers at the public pool on Fifth and Chestnut, information to the Cold Weather Shelter, the FISH food bank and HopeSource. The Ellensburg United Methodist Church across the street has a clothing bank.

“We have all those resources available. People just have to ask for them,” Camarillo said. “The clothing bank is for anyone, I could go over and get a sweatshirt if I needed one.

“If people want to come in and use the computer or watch a movie, we have free wi-fi. Our mission is to serve the community as best we can.”

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