Why Do Homeless People Go to the Library?

A library lobby.

Anybody who lives in a populated city and who has been to their local library has probably noticed the many homeless people that set up camp inside these libraries and stay there for most of the day. Not everybody who is homeless is easily recognizable, since many use laundromats to clean their clothes and use shelters to take showers and freshen up each day. So there’s probably even more homeless people in your local library than you may realize or you’re able to actually notice.


At the time that I was homeless back in 2011, the local city library was like my headquarters, my office, and my sanctuary. It was the place I would go to everyday after waking up and eating breakfast and where I would spend the majority of my time. Without the library I probably would have gone crazy while sleeping on the streets because it was my escape from that each day and the one time during the day when I could feel like a normal person in society again. I looked just like anybody else in there since I kept myself clean most of the time and had very little possessions which I kept in a normal sized backpack. So if you saw me you probably wouldn’t even realize I was homeless. But there’s many reasons why I went to the library each day and it served so many purposes for me so here’s some of the most common reasons why most homeless people go to the library and some of the main reasons why I went there.


The most obvious reason anybody goes to the library is to read or check out books. Well homeless people are no different than anyone else. Reading books during the day helps them waste time instead of being bored outside, while checking a few out at a time gives them something to read at night. What I did was I would do work on my laptop during the day, but I would take books with me to read at night for when I was sleeping in my tent. I would only check out books that I could learn something from, such as books on philosophy, history, computer programming, and business and travel guides. Many homeless people like myself try not to waste time while on the streets.


The library can serve homeless people the same way it serves students and others, as a place to learn. I wanted to educate myself so that I’d be better prepared to be independent once I got back on my feet, and also so that I’d have more things to write about in the future and possibly make more income that way. I knew one homeless person who was actually a student at the nearby college, and he would use the library as a way to study and check out the required books he needed for that.


Most public libraries nowadays have public computers and Wi-Fi available, as well as movie collections on DVD. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when I say that many hobos use the library to watch movies all day, either on the public computers or on their own laptops or portable devices. For the homeless, the library can serve the same function as someone’s home would, so it can be a daily escape from the harsh realities they have to deal with outside the library.


But not everybody uses the internet there for such irresponsible reasons. Lots of people use it as a way to apply for jobs and look for work since most employers post their job listings online these days. Homeless people may also use the internet to locate resources such as where shelters or soup kitchens are. Some of these places change their daily schedules sometimes on weekends, holidays, or other significant dates. So the people who frequent these kinds of places have to stay updated by checking online if they haven’t been to a location in a while or are unfamiliar with it’s schedule or location.


When it rains outside or when the temperatures are very hot or cold, the library can serve as the perfect day time shelter. What other place is open all day from morning to night where people can just hangout? Well there’s always shopping malls, but security guards in these places are known for kicking out people who fit the vagrant description. The local library may have security guards as well, but because the library is paid for by public tax dollars, they need a pretty good reason to vacate someone other than loitering. The air conditioning is a nice escape from the daytime heat, or the heating is a better option than the snow outside. This is probably why there is almost always more people there on rainy days. Unfortunately, libraries do close eventually, but at least it can offer a safe shelter from the weather temporarily when needed.


Sometimes people actually use the library to sleep. It’s not always easy to get a good night’s sleep when you’re on the streets. Some people are too paranoid to sleep out in the open at night, because they may fear being attacked by someone or being harassed by the police. They might be unable to find any secluded areas to lay their head. So the library can often serve as a safe place where they don’t have to fear anything. In most libraries, security guards will wake up those who they find sleeping and tell them that they have to either stay awake or leave.


But in large libraries, such as the one I frequented, the security officers would usually sweep the library in rounds, plus there were many floors. So if a person wanted to take a nap at a table or in any of the soft chairs, they could usually get away with a few hours of sleep before the first guard came around to check. After that, they would just stay awake for a few minutes until the guard left, then switch floors and would go to sleep again until the next guard came around to check a few hours later. In smaller libraries this can be more difficult to pull off, and there’s always the risk of being told to leave no matter what type of building it is.


Many people assume that those without homes are automatically without possessions of their own. The truth is that the majority of homeless people out there actually own at least one electronic device. These devices usually need to be charged, and since most libraries have electrical outlets available, they make for a great place to do this. So there’s a lot of people who use the library mainly for this purpose. Some of them have cell phones. Some have portable DVD players or laptops, and some actually have ankle monitors.


Since many of the people who are released from prison end up on the streets and in shelters, there’s a lot of them who are released with electronic ankle monitors on their legs that they have to keep on at all times. They’re ordered by a judge to wear these things as a condition of their probation or parole, and they usually have to keep them charged or else it can count as a violation of their parole. So if you ever see someone using the chargers in the library and they have an electrical cord leading from their ankle to the electrical outlet, they’re most likely one of these types of people.


The library also serves as a safe and comfortable place to go when you’re sick. When you feel sick to your stomach or just out of it, the last place you want to be is on the streets. There were many times where I would normally be outside for most of the day, but I stayed in the library all day watching movies because I was sick. As a transient, you have everything you basically need there such as air conditioning, entertainment, bathrooms, and safety. Also, when you’re depressed from being homeless, you may drink alcohol at night to use it as something to help pass the time and get your mind off things, and many homeless people are alcoholics. So there’s probably many hobos who use the library and it’s bathrooms to make it through the day until their hangover symptoms pass.


There’s two types of homeless people that you’ll find on the streets; the civilized types and the uncivilized types. People often stereotype all transients as the uncivilized types, but the large majority of hobos fall under the civilized category. These are the ones who shave their faces when they can, use soap, take daily showers, and use restrooms instead of going outside. So for these types, the bathrooms in the library can definitely come in handy and many of those on the streets visit libraries for no other reason but to use them. In large cities it can be hard sometimes to find a public bathroom, because the portable ones that are put on the streets by the city are often out of order, and most fast food restaurants and other businesses require you to buy something to gain access with a token or key they give you.


When I was sleeping outside, I still used the local shelters to take showers and shave. But there were some days when I was unable to, for whatever reason, so on these days I would visit the library’s bathrooms sometimes and would use the sinks to shave and clean my face up. I preferred to use the types of bathrooms you sometimes find at gas stations, which are private where nobody can see you. But these aren’t always easy to find, and the library was. Some hobos may use the sinks for other purposes, like to wash their whole bodies. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that and I would only use the sinks on the upper floors, where I thought few people would see me. So some homeless people use restrooms just to relieve themselves, while others may use them for other purposes like to clean themselves up or shave.


Meet Up
Since so many people living on the streets use the library for different things, it’s the best place to go when you’re homeless yourself and looking for a fellow hobo buddy for whatever reason. There were many times when I was looking for someone that I knew from the streets, and instead of checking the multiple shelters in the area, it was just easier to go to the library and check there. It’s almost like a central hub or meet up location for those on the streets, depending on how big the city is and the local homeless population.


I would often run into people that I had met months earlier at other shelters, so it’s also a place to avoid for some who don’t want to see certain people anymore. But as a meetup place, there were many occasions where I would be somewhere talking to someone on the street early in the day, and I would have to use the library as a future destination to meet up at. We’d make plans to find each other later in the day at the library, such as on a specific floor or section of the building. So in a way, the library can even be viewed as a sort of headquarters or home base for the homeless.