July 21st, 2018

Library a safe place for all

By Letter to the Editor on January 10, 2018.

A number of articles in the News, and the editorial on Jan. 5, have discussed the issue of the homeless not having a place to go during the Christmas holiday. A few of the articles mentioned the Medicine Hat Public Library. Many included the statement, “the Library and even Tim Horton’s were closed on Christmas Day” while one editorial referred to the death of a man outside of the library back in the winter of 2009.

As the library’s acting chief librarian, it is my responsibility to speak up in defence of our library — even though we weren’t asked to provide a comment in response to any of the claims made about our organization.

The library is a safe place for everyone in the community and I am proud of the welcoming nature of the library staff who help to provide a facility that is inclusive, including providing a respite for the homeless or transient members of our community. The library has comfortable spaces and numerous resources for everyone to use and we provide programs and services that can assist those who wish to use them, free of charge.

The library has established good relationships with most, if not all, of the service agencies in our community. We have extended open invitations to these agencies to spend time at the library so they can be in the same place as many of our community’s most vulnerable. We have even considered developing a dedicated space for representatives of various social agencies to use on a drop-in basis; however, the renovations required to build a space like this will require additional funding.

Beginning this month, one of our partner agencies is offering a drop-in social event at the library for the homeless. This will start on a trial basis to see if there is enough interest to continue the program in the future. Last year the library also served, temporarily, as a location for people to pick up emergency food hampers when the food bank was closed.

It is not, however, the mandate of the Medicine Hat Public Library to act as an agency for the homeless. Our staff are not trained, nor equipped with the proper resources to help someone out of homelessness — this is why we rely on our partner agencies who are mandated in this area.

Our organization, like so many others in the community, closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day — it is unfair to cast us in a negative light for allowing our staff to have time with family. It is unkind to remind the community of the unfortunate death of a man outside of the library with the indication again, as it was also reported when the death occurred, that the library staff were uncaring. The opposite, of course, is true: Our staff were deeply impacted by his passing and many grieved for a man they knew and had tried to offer help to, as they do with anyone who might need assistance.

One article mentioned that the homeless may not be allowed in the library due to their appearance. This is definitely not the case as the library does not deny access to anyone, unless there has been a clear violation of our code of conduct, which is true of any publicly accessed facility.

The library encourages everyone in our community to visit and to use our resources, services, and to take part in our programs.

Keith Walker

Medicine Hat

(The writer is acting chief librarian at Medicine Hat Public Library.)

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