// December 30th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Homelessness, Nashville
I took my parents to the Nashville Public Library Downtown because they wanted to get out of my house and it’s one of the nicest spaces in the southeast. When we entered, we stumbled upon an exhibit “art makes place”. Part of this exhibit included these fliers with tear off tabs much like the ones often seen in the environs of college campuses on bulletin boards and telephone polls. While these fliers are often advertisements for goods and services, these fliers sported a simple commitment: “I WILL HELP”. Help who? Help with what? That the flier provided no answer to my questions engaged me.
As we continued on our tour of the library, I smelled the unpleasant smell of uncleanness. That smell transported me back twenty-five years or so to the old downtown library I frequented when I was in high school. It was then I first had an inkling of what people have to do to survive when they are homeless. The public men’s rooms became their bathrooms of sorts where they could try to clean up as much as possible.
While we moved through the Courtyard, the Grand Reading Room, the Civil Rights Room, the Fine Arts Reading Room, the periodicals and the amazing children’s area there were men, women and children of all ages and hues who seemed to be at home in the library while on the computers, reading newspapers and periodicals, carrying on conversations (sometimes with invisible conversation partners), and sleeping…
My parents and I had dinner reservations and I was hurrying them along so as not to be caught at closing time and risk missing our reservation. As I kept looking at my phone to keep track of time, I was aware that closing time at the library meant something completely different to many people in the library than it did to me. While I was on my way to dinner with my family, many other people would be released onto cold wet streets with theirs.
Looking forward from the threshold of a new year, there are things I must put behind me. The smiles, the smells, the overheard conversations, the eyes of the people old and young in the Downtown Nashville Public Library are not among them. They are my answer.
(Click here for more on Ending Homelessness in Nashville.)