Taiwan's public libraries offer the homeless more than just books

Some public libraries hope they can do more for homeless people

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(By Taiwan News)

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) -- Photographer Fritz Hoffmann used his lens to record how some homeless people in California benefit from public libraries; in Taiwan, some public libraries are hoping the homeless can be provided with help to get them off the streets.

Many people feel uncomfortable with homelessness in their communities, especially in enclosed spaces such as public libraries. Hoffmann advocates for the right of homeless people to have access to public libraries, which can be used as quiet places to read and learn, even better, as a place to turn their lives around. 

There are many factors that may contribute to homelessness, and many of homeless people are striving hard to simply find a shelter or a place to make them feel secure. Public libraries are places that can offer people a moment of peace and a bit of contentment. They can help a homeless population maintain a sense of humanity, allowing them to connect to society through reading when they are unplugged from the Internet.

Public libraries can act as a temporary getaway for homeless people to forget how hard their lives are. 

A study issued by World Cities Culture Forum says that Taipei is among the top 20 cities in the world with highest number of public libraries for every 100,000 people. 

How Taiwan's public libraries treat homeless people 

In a public library of New Taipei City, it's not rare to spot homeless people sitting in a corner reading books or newspapers quietly, or comfortably reclining in their seats in a lecture room enjoying free movies. 

Hu Dong-hong (胡東宏), director of the New Taipei City Library San Chong Branch, told a Taiwan News reporter that many people wrongly think of homeless people as lazy or unlawful, but many of them are not. 

Homeless Taiwan (芒草心協會) worker Wu Fu-tung (巫馥彤) said that nearly 80 percent of the homeless have a job, but an extremely low-paying job, so they can't afford housing or a decent lifestyle.

When they are put on the streets, it becomes harder for them to maintain a decent job and to access information or resources that could help them overcome poverty. 

And a public library is a good place for the homeless to learn, to think and to rebuild their lives from scratch. 

"When our staff members receive a complaint or request from library users to remove homeless people from the building, we would tell them that we can't do that just because of their low social status, unless they were causing an inconvenience to other guests," Hu said. 

"People usually can understand and return with a friendly nod after hearing our explanation," he added. 

"I am hoping that one day there will be no more homeless people in our library, not because we say no to them, but because they have their lives figured out so they don't have to sleep on the streets," said Hu.  

The Director of the Social Affairs Bureau of the Taichung City Government Lue Jen-Der (呂建德) said that the city facilities in Taichung are built for everyone and no one should be excluded from the service, as long as they do not make noise or cause trouble.

Lue said that the bureau has launched various programs to help the homeless get off the streets, including coaching them to become city tour guides or library workers, and of course, helping them find a decent job. 

"The public libraries should play an important part of the social security network to help the homeless stand on their feet again," he added.