Homeless Empowerment Tip: The Boston Public Library’s Central Library

When you’re shunned by family and friends, you find yourself in a shelter. The lights of the shelter are turned on at 5.30 in the morning. Always 5.30 in the morning. You’re awakened by a smell that no man or woman should ever encounter. A foul mix of body odor, alcohol and dirty laundry. This smell grows on you. And then the sounds of the shelter reach your ears. Snoring, spitting, cursing and fighting. Though I slept on the floor, the same spot I was given the night before, I break a smile because I still have my clothes and shoes on. They constantly tell you how fortunate the residents are. You could be sleeping under a bridge or on a heating grate with four or five other homeless people.

I say to myself again and again, “How did I end up in a place like this. What was done to me that I would end up homeless?” The first thing I must begin to recognize is that no one has done anything to me. No one in my world—my family, friends or employment—did this to me. I placed myself in a downward spiral that ended in a shelter. All this was done by my own accord. “So, starting today,” I say to myself, “how am I gonna turn my life around?”

As I begin to gather my belongings, a light breakfast is served. This is when the residents exchange information. For example, the latest on employment, and updates on family differences. Here a sense of bonding comes about, some good and some bad. Off in the distance, I notice a few shelter mates. This group are always together; they seem to be looking out for each other. They seem to have a glow, this glow stands out, especially in a place like this. As they exit the shelter, the smiles upon their faces show something fantastic is about to happen. Today, I decide to follow this group. Where are they going and what separates them from everyone else? To my surprise, their destination is The Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

To my memory, the last time I was at the library was over 20 years ago. The library has always been a place of safety, knowledge and growth for me. On July 9, 2016, the library completed a $78 million renovation. Utilizing the same mantra the library has used for years: Free to All. This is where the young, old and homeless go to reinvent themselves.

I wanted to take a look at the Central Library. My questions were growing two and three fold. How is the library “Free to All”? I have a Spare Change News customer, Kimberly Reynolds, who is an employee at the library. We spoke, and she agreed to arrange a tour for me through the public relations department. I was introduced to Rosemary Lavery, senior public relations associate, and went on a tour with her on August 15, 2016.

The first thing you will notice when you enter the doors of 700 Boylston St. is the illuminating effect the sun creates inside the building. There are windows on the roof and all around the structure. The days of dark rooms where the only light you had came from the table lamps are a thing of the past. The second thing you’ll notice is the staff, who are all well informed of the library activity dates and history. The staff also paid close attention to detail, something I’ve not seen in a while. The Central Library is comprised of two buildings: The Johnson and The McKim. These are joined by the McKim courtyard.

While I’m on the tour, I notice some new and old features. A section is called Tech Central, which has 85 computer workstations for public use. Here, a person can check emails and surf the Web. The Kirstein Business Library provides a prime location for a small business start-up. People can utilize the lecture hall, attend seminars and peruse a vast supply of business periodicals. While visiting the children’s center, I notice parents and children sharing stories. Their interaction was quite rewarding to see. To be able to sit and read to your children creates many fond memories.

Throughout the tour, I constantly heard the word “growth.” The library has a teens’ center where young adults are free to challenge themselves. Teens are exploring 3D imaging, and I heard a story about a young patron at the Newton Library who was an amputee, and through 3-D imaging, they were able to graft an area of the body that was separated. The fact that the library was able to assist this patron gave me great faith in it. Genealogy is another avenue teens are pursuing. They are researching their family tree, which helps them answer the age old question of “Where do I come from?”

Once again, I must tip my hat to the library. It’s not only through the children and teen programs that it’s providing growth opportunities. WGBH has a satellite station on the first level of the library. Here, visitors can broadcast news and educational programming. American Student assistance is also available for students seeking scholarships or assistance with higher education grants and college choices.

Citizenship training is also provided. I noticed that the English as a Second Language classes were quite full. Nevertheless, Tech Central was certainly the most populated. Here, I was informed of a website that’s provided specifically for the homeless: http://guides.bpl.org/guide4help. This website was created through public suggestion to help many homeless, hungry and stranded people to reinvent their lives.

During my tour, the one topic I wanted to explore was the success stories. I’m aware of one person who reinvented himself using the Public Library. The person was KRS1, and he was able to use the public library and find everything he needed to reinvent himself. KRS1 is a performer, so he was able to utilize the business, legal and advertising tools to help launch and sustain his career. It was all at his fingertips and disposal. I shared this with Mrs. Lavery and was rewarded with another wonderful success story that I must share. The Central Library had a patron who was homeless. After not working, his life was in a downward spiral. He slept in his car most nights. But with the help of the Public Library staff, he went from being at the bottom to being complete gratified. He followed an employment listing in the Massachusetts Lawyer Review and obtained employment. By working with library staff, setting goals and maintaining consistency, you too can obtain these results. So use the library to grow, because it’s Free for All. And remember that just as you put yourself in this current place, you too can get yourself out of it.

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