I haven’t been in the downtown library for years, but I hope it is not as impacted as this one in Santa Monica, as reported by US News.
James sat camped outside the main branch of the Santa Monica Public Library on a recent sunny day, his meager belongings in a backpack, and explained how his bout of homelessness started: He fell off the roof of a three-story house.
“I’m from Kentucky. They gave me every drug under the sun – ‘You’ve got to have this the rest of your life,'” the 54-year-old says, a country twang in his gentle voice. “I got addicted to the drugs – all of ’em.”
James says he’s since gotten off the pharmaceuticals, only occasionally smoking a little bit of marijuana for his chronic pain. He says he’s received “plenty of sandwiches” from a local shelter, for which he is “grateful,” but that what he’s needed for several months is a caseworker – someone to help him get an apartment and a part-time job, which he thinks he can manage.
Perhaps surprisingly, staff at the library say they’ll be able to connect him with one.
James is one of many homeless people who flock to the library in Santa Monica, California – an idyllic, trendy and fast-gentrifying beach community that also serves as a haven for the less fortunate.
But with the number of homeless people surging by a whopping 26 percent between point-in-time counts in 2016 and 2017 – roughly the same year-over-year rise seen overall in Los Angeles County, which counted nearly 58,000 homeless last year – the city is experiencing a crisis on its streets and in its at-capacity shelters. A 2018 count showed homelessness had increased by another 4 percent in Santa Monica, with 957 individuals tallied.
In the midst of this dilemma, the library is a magnet for folks needing a respite from the streets. Its stacks are so crowded that people have taken to Yelp to complain.
“Basically a homeless shelter with books,” said one library user. “It’s hard to concentrate because there’s always someone snoring loudly with their filthy feet up on the furniture.”
Another person mentioned seeing a homeless woman drying her panties in the ladies room with its hand-dryer.
California has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless of any state. Local officials say the roots of LA County’s new crisis are home-grown, and lie in the area’s robust economic recovery: Rents are now too high, while wages are lagging behind rent increases.