Why fewer homeless people may spend time at the new Central Library

Austin Central Library in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo)
Austin Central Library in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Years late and tens of millions of dollars over budget, the new Central Library in downtown Austin is set to open its doors Saturday morning.

While it is expecting huge crowds, there’s a big question about some of the most frequent users of the previous downtown library. The Faulk Central Library was known as a place where Austin’s homeless would go to use the various resources, but a library spokeswoman says they don’t expect it to be the same at the new Central Library.

“We looked at research from other cities that opened a new central library and found many of the homeless chose to go to surrounding libraries instead, at least for the first few years,” says Kanya Lyons, Library Spokeswoman.

Lyons goes on to say regardless of anyone’s housing status all are welcome inside the new library. The library system has made efforts to help the homeless over the years. They had a two year grant where social work interns helped the homeless find resources but that ended in August and as of now they say they don’t have plans to renew it. Instead, librarians are being trained to help the homeless by knowing resources they can use. Still, those who advocate for the homeless say the need seen inside the library translates to the need for more housing.

“When we are working to end homelessness, all of our public systems connect in one way or another, that’s what community’s all about,” says Ann Howard, Executive Director of Ending Community Homeless Coalition (ECHO).  “What we need to do is scale up resources to help people get off the street and into housing.”

Libraries have proven to be a valuable resource for Austin’s homeless population since it offers them a place to check the internet, use a bathroom and stay out of the hot or cold weather.

This new $125 million library will offer community rooms where anyone can meet one-on-one with a counselor or caseworker, for example, to talk about jobs or housing.

The grand opening celebrations start at 10 a.m. Saturday but the library doesn’t open to the public until 1 p.m.

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