Steve Thomas: Julie, welcome to Circulating Ideas.
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Steve Thomas: Before we get to our main topic, can you tell me what drew you to the library field in the first place?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: That’s a great question. When I first started in the library field, I was running a small business called We Follow the Stork and we went in and helped people after they had a baby and answered questions, and I did that for about 15 years, and then I was tired of running my own business. So I happened to be at my local library and they had a position for library clerk. So I applied for the position for library clerk. And so I started working at the library as the clerk. And then I only did that for a few months when a position opened up for library assistant, working in jails and prisons and I was on a list. I worked for a county. And once you got on the list, if there was an opening and you didn’t apply that somehow you would slip down the list or something. So I thought, well, I’ll apply for it, but there’s no way I’m ever going to work in jails and prisons, like who would do that? But I went to the interview anyway, and the person who interviewed me can convince anybody to do anything. And so I ended up taking that job and it really changed my life. I realized that I could be a social justice activist and work in a library at the same time, which I didn’t know before that. I did that for seven years and then I went on and did other things in the library system, and then eventually after working in the library for about 15 years, I went back to school and got my MLS because I wanted to be able to move up, or maybe go to a different library system where they did require an MLS. So that’s how I got started.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, a lot of people come to librarianship as a second career a lot of times. How did you through the lens of the library, how did you start thinking of homelessness, and how the library can work with people experiencing homelessness?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: So after working in the library for about 20 years, I had at the back of my mind that maybe someday I would get a PhD, I don’t know exactly why I just had this idea that that might be a good idea. And both of my sisters have PhDs in anthropology and I was very, very interested in diversity or the lack of diversity in my profession, and so I applied to some PhD programs and was accepted at several and ended up going at University of Tennessee Knoxville and my advisor at the time was very interested in homelessness and libraries. And I never would’ve thought of that. I was going to focus on diversity, but there were a lot of people focusing on diversity in the library field, not that it’s made a lot of difference, but that there are people doing that. And so, he asked me if I would present at an international conference and do a project with him where we looked at the use of the internet and computers by people who were unhoused at libraries. And so I started on that and then one day he walked up to me with a newspaper clipping and he said, read this article and it was about the fact that up to 40% of unaccompanied youth, youth who are living on the streets, or are unhoused identify as LGBTQ+. And it was just a shocking statistic to me, just shocking, and so that became my topic of interest.
So it was not something that I thought about much when I was working in libraries, which I think is true of a lot of people work in libraries. I didn’t realize the ramifications of what happens if you’re incarcerated, for example, and then you come back out or if you were in the foster system, I of course working in jails and prisons was very aware of the disproportionate number of people of color who are incarcerated. That was one of the most impactful things that I experienced during my time there. And so of course it then translates into disproportionate number of people of color experiencing homelessness too, because we don’t do a good job in this country with our criminal carceral legal system.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. That’s another issue to deal with. It’s a related issue to the homelessness, but yeah, that’s almost a whole other thing, how libraries can help with that. And like you said, there’s been lots of diversity efforts in librarianship and within the profession, and yet here we still are at 90% white people in the field, and so whatever we’re doing is not working yet.
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Yeah, it’s really true. I think there are a lot of different reasons, part of it as the stereotype of librarianship. People don’t understand that there’s a social justice aspect to librarianship. And I think if they did more people would be attracted to it. I think it attracts a certain kind of person and then retention is a huge issue. And, I read a lot of about that and talk to people. I know we talk a lot about that, so yeah, we’ve got a long way to go.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. Well, the book is Libraries and Homelessness: an Action Guide, which I like that you have “action” in the title, so not just learning about something, but doing something about something, and just earlier, you and I are both using a couple of different terms, homelessness, unhoused. Can you talk about, how do you define homelessness since that’s what the book is about and what are some of the other terms that people who are sort of new to this might need to know?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: There’s a HUD definition -the US Department of Housing and Urban Development- they have a definition for what homelessness is. And then there’s something called the McKinney-Vento Act, which is more about families and children in schools and about how you define it, another way of defining homelessness and I like their definition better because their definition is if you are not only unstable or unhoused, but you also have to have adequate accommodation. And so somebody lives, for example, in a building that’s falling down and has no plumbing and it has no electricity, that’s in the McKinney- Vento definition, that’s experiencing homelessness and in the HUD definition it is not. So I think that we need a broader definition. So to me is somebody who does not have a safe, predictable, and reliable place to sleep at night. And safety is I’d say number one in all of that. When I was doing my research, so I ended up doing my research on LGBTQ youth, experiencing homelessness, and the biggest topic that came up was safety because you feel unsafe all the time.
I guess the other terminology is I would recommend that people look up the kinds of terms that people are forced to use if they’re experiencing homelessness. And I think that’s something we don’t really think about. If you become unhoused, there’s a video that I show to my students, or no, it’s a radio interview, and he talks about how he just didn’t know how to be homeless. He didn’t know where to go, who to ask, what to do. He lost his housing because he lost his job and there’s a lot of vocabulary that you have to learn, like the difference between transitional housing and emergency housing and permanent housing and wraparound care and all of these terms, they have to learn how to use because otherwise they can’t maneuver their way around this system that can be really complicated and hard to work with.
And so I think people that work in libraries should learn the language: housing first versus emergency housing. I mean, there’s just so many terms and if we learn those terms, then we can learn to communicate with the people experiencing homelessness and also how to communicate with the people that are working with them, the social service agencies, the churches, whoever is working with them. We need to know these terms. I never say the homeless, which implies that there’s a homogeneity. I do say, people are unhoused. I say houselessness. I say, people experiencing homelessness, unstably housed, and also sometimes there are terms like couch surfing, especially that the young people use. They completely reject the idea that they’re homeless. And so you have to think of really addressing what is going on in their life. And what are you going to talk to them about? What do they want help with? If you say, are you homeless? They’re going to say no. Or even if you say, are you experiencing homelessness? They’re going to say no. But then if you say, where did you sleep last night or do you have a place to sleep tonight? Would you like help finding a place to sleep tonight? That doesn’t stigmatize them because we are so stigmatizing in our culture about the term homelessness.
When I was doing my research with the young people, one of the things I would do is I maintained a small library at a drop in center and I would roll this rolling bag behind me that was full of books so that I could bring new books to the little library and take the old books out. And one day I went into the main library in the city where I was doing this research. And I wanted to find out specifically whether people who were experiencing homelessness could get a library card, or could use a study room. And so I just had these two questions. And so I ended up going to different desks and rolling this bag behind me, and I asked at one of the desks where I didn’t know the person. And I asked my question and then I said that I’m not experiencing homelessness. And I didn’t need to say that to them, but it’s so stigmatized that I wanted them to know that so they didn’t treat me poorly and turn into this other kind of interaction. And I was so struck by how I was so supportive of people experiencing homelessness, and yet I did not want to be identified that way. It just really made an impression on me.
Steve Thomas: I know this was difficult to write a book in the middle of a pandemic, but up to now, how has COVID affected people experiencing homelessness?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: It’s an exaggerated version of what was already happening. People who are experiencing homelessness are already at risk in so many different ways: their health, their ability to get employment, their ability to hold a job, their ability to get physical and mental health services, all of that, their ability to find a bathroom that they could use, the ability to find a place to safely shower. All of that was already true, and then COVID came along and everything shut down and the libraries shut down. And the libraries people were relying on to be able to submit their applications online, to be able to stay in communication with their family and friends, to be able to use the bathroom, to be able to be out of the public eye, to be able to be warm or cool, all of those things just disappeared.
And what really struck me was how a lot of libraries were doing work around homelessness, but they were suddenly not doing that because they went back to their basics, I guess. And it was like working with people experiencing homelessness was an add on and it went away cause they figured out how to do story times and help online. They did a lot of online stuff, but if you don’t have access to the internet and you don’t have a device and you don’t have electricity, it doesn’t really help you. Nonetheless, a lot of libraries did continue to try to serve the people who are experiencing homelessness. It was just much harder. It was harder to find them. It was harder to be able to serve them. But the libraries that had interns or social work interns or regular social workers or public health workers, continued to reach out, continued to go out and do the work. A few libraries across the country took their bookmobiles and had them drive around and be moving hotspots for the internet, which worked for everyone, including people experiencing homelessness, some libraries put in their parking lots hand washing stations and a porta-potty to replace the bathrooms that they would be able to use inside. Some libraries even offered their parking lot for people who are living in their cars or vans so that they could park there because the parking lots weren’t being used. So there was a lot of effort, but nonetheless, it really revealed how tenuous the help was.
The other part of it, though, that was really fascinating to me was that a lot of cities that were routinely doing sweeps, and I talk about this in the book, of what they call encampments and what I call tent communities to kick people out and they just come in, they kick everybody out, they take their possessions, they throw them in the trash, they tell them they have to leave. And they stopped doing that because of the danger to the housed community of a bunch of people or unhoused walking around and potentially exposing them. I mean, I really think that’s the reason. I don’t think they were particularly concerned. They suddenly are providing port-a-potties where they weren’t providing them before and hand washing stations.
So that was really interesting. What struck me was they could do that really fast if they wanted to. And they hadn’t done it before and then they suddenly could do it. So, yeah, it was interesting and a friend of mine and I, Steve Bales did a survey of what libraries were doing and I was really impressed by the efforts that libraries were making to try to make up for this, but a lot of libraries, their hands were tied. They just couldn’t do anything. I remember one library said that as soon as they realized they were going to shut down, they got their circulating laptops out of the library as fast as they could. They just started checking them out as fast as they could because they knew they were going to be shutting down and they wouldn’t be able to do that.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, and that was really important because when you were getting tests or you were getting the vaccine, when that was coming out, you had to have a computer to get in line to do a lot of that stuff. And if they didn’t have computers available, then they wouldn’t be able to do that, which is helping with the problem overall. It just kind of a bit is a big circle.
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Yeah, exactly. Having a computer and having electricity, having internet access in our society these days is really critical. And without that, there’s a lot you cannot do.
Steve Thomas: So, how have libraries been working to help people experiencing homelessness up until now and what are some examples of people who are doing great things now or have been doing?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Across the country, there are a lot of libraries are doing a lot of different things. Leah Esguerra, who was the first social worker in a library in the United States was hired by San Francisco Public Library to be a social worker and reach out to the people who are coming into the libraries and help them connect to services. And then she also has, what are called HASAs, which are people who were experiencing homelessness, who work with her, and I think they get a stipend or some sort of pay and they also work with the people who are coming into the library. So that idea which was starting at several years ago now has spread across the United States. So one thing that libraries are doing is hiring social workers or social work interns, or even public health workers. So that’s one example.
And then there’s some famous ones like Dallas Public Library has something called Coffee and Conversation and other libraries across the country are doing that. And what I love about Coffee and Conversation, which I assume stopped during the pandemic, was that it brought together housed and unhoused people, because I think one of the biggest challenges for people who are stably housed, including the people who work in libraries, is being able to actually have a conversation in real life with somebody who unhoused and realize that they’re just a human being who doesn’t have a permanent place to live. And so bringing these people together, I think made a huge difference.
Other things that libraries are doing, are making connections, doing a lot of partnerships, which I think is critical. I think of all the things that a library could do, the most important thing you could do is create a partnership because that helps you and helps the partner in terms of serving this population.They’ve held health fairs, some libraries are doing point in time counts, which is a once a year count of how many people are experiencing homelessness, maybe it’s every other year. So it’s one night in January, they do a count, which is of course an under count because you’re not going to get to everyone who’s unhoused that night, especially in January.
So some libraries are doing that. Some libraries are helping people who are unhoused, be able to vote. Some libraries are helping people work with local organizations and to get rid of some of the citations that they get because they have broken some sort of local ordinance, what’s called a quality of life citation. So they sit on the sidewalk and they get cited or they ask for money and they get cited, or there’s all these different ways you can get a ticket. And then when you go to apply for a job or apply for housing, you have this accumulation of tickets and then you owe all this money, and then it just builds and builds and builds. So some libraries are helping with that, providing lawyers or providing connections.
And then one of my favorite things is Spokane Public Library, and other libraries across the country have community courts, which is where a court is held actually in the library where everybody is kind of on the same level, instead of having this judge sitting up at the front of the room, everybody’s sitting there, the district attorney and the public defender and the judge and the person who is there for some sort of minor infraction, which could cause a problem with their record or cost them money. It gets all gets worked out in this very equitable partnership kind of way, and they also bring in a lot of local services. And I just think it’s an amazing, amazing model. And I really liked to see that.
Another library did, some places it’s called talkback theater. And I saw this at the drop-in center where I was maintaining that small library and doing research where a talk-back theater comes in and somebody in the audience tells a story. And then you have these professional actors acting out the story. One of the young people that I had interviewed actually got up and told the story of how he came to be homeless, which was that he was walking down the street on his 19th birthday and holding his hand of his boyfriend, and his sister saw him and went home and told his mother. And by the time he got back to his house, cause he wasn’t out to his family, by the time he got back to his house, he had been kicked out. He took a bus across the United States, bringing a few possessions that he was allowed to take from his house, and then he ended up in San Francisco. He thought it would be great because it’s San Francisco and he was gay, but turns out being gay and being unhoused isn’t as warmly welcomed. But he told the story and then talk- back theater people acted it out and then asked him, is this your story? And he was crying. And I swear, I think we were all crying at that point, but it was really powerful to be able to have your story be respected and understood and put out there and not disregarded, but actually honored. And it was really powerful. So there’s a lot going on that we don’t hear about.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, those are really cool examples. I hadn’t heard of the talk back theater. And you’d mentioned earlier about library cards. Have a lot of libraries figured out how to give library cards because in a lot of times they’re like, oh, I need to see your ID to make sure that you live in our service area?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Yes. Some libraries have. The first step to this was that if you were connected to a local social service agency, you could bring in a letter saying that you were connected to that agency, and then they would use that address. The problem with that, one, the young man that I was just telling you about knew that he could get a letter from the drop-in center place, but he wasn’t out as a person experiencing homelessness at the library where he spent a lot of time. So this would reveal that he was unhoused and he did not want that stigma. So he had a real dilemma because he loves libraries. And by getting a card, he’d be able to spend more than 15 minutes on the computer. He’d be able to check out like two print items, no AV items, that’s how these cards started.
Since then, I think it’s gotten better. You can get an e-card pretty easily in a lot of library systems now where, for example, Alameda County Library System, where I used to work, you can get an e-card by going online and just putting in your name and you don’t have to prove anything, and I actually tested it out, put in a fake name, a fake email address, sorry, Alameda County, if you’re listening to this, and I put my address as park bench and I got an e-card. I haven’t used it since I don’t even remember what the name was, but I just wanted to make sure it really worked. So there are library systems that are thinking of ways of trying to bypass that, or they let you use the internet for the same period of time, you can get a card in the library, but you can’t necessarily check out items.
And then there are some libraries that are actually letting you check out items without an ID, without a permanent address. So there’s a real range of ways that libraries are addressing that. Also the other thing is that a lot of libraries are going fine free and fines a real deterrent for people who are unhoused, families with children, for example, where they want to go to the library, the kids all want to check out a book, but they don’t know where they’re going to sleep that night, or they’re in a shelter and the books could get stolen. Or in the case of some of the young people, they check out a book and then they get kicked out or they lose their housing. And the book is still there. So getting rid of fines helps everyone in the community, not just people unhoused, but that’s another way that libraries are helping people.
Public conduct policies are another barrier. A lot of libraries have public conduct policies, no sleeping, no strong odors. There were, I don’t know if they still exist anymore, but when I was doing my research, they were actually libraries in the United States where if you weren’t actively engaged with the materials you had to leave. So you couldn’t just go there and sit and think. I don’t know if those libraries still have those rules. Or no large baggage. A lot of libraries that still have those, and they definitely act as a deterrent. If you are somebody who’s unhoused, you’ve lost all your housing, you have to leave really fast. And so you put everything that’s the most valuable to you, each item in that bag represents like a hundred things that you’re leaving behind. So now you have one big bag and that’s everything in your life. And then you go to a library and library says, well, you can use the library, but you can’t bring in that bag, and then you have a dilemma. Like you can’t leave the bag outside because it represents everything you own, but you really need to use the library.
A friend of mine was telling me about a library where there’s a place outside where you could sit at a table inside and you can leave your bag, but you could watch it cause there was a window near a computer. A few libraries are offering lockers, which I think is a great solution, but a lot of libraries don’t have the space to be able to do that. Or they might live in a city that provides municipal lockers and there are several libraries that do that. And so having a partnership with those municipal lockers is another way.
And dealing with the odor policies, for one thing, they should always be enforced equally. So if somebody comes in and is wearing a lot of perfume or aftershave, they should be treated the same as someone who hasn’t been able to find a safe shower, but also there are libraries that are working with local organizations that provide free showers. The city of Denver has a mobile shower unit and a mobile laundry unit. So there are ways of, instead of saying, these are our rules. Now you have to leave, instead of doing that saying, what could we do about this? How could we help you so that you are able to use our library? And that really should be the goal rather than seeing people as problem patrons. You should be seeing as a challenge to be able to make sure that all of your community members are using the library.
Steve Thomas: Right. And this can be a big issue depending on your community and you talk about where sometimes it’s so big that you start to get what’s called compassion fatigue, where it’s not just this community, but all the other communities you’re trying to serve. Can you talk about kind of what that concept is and how we can help fight it?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Yeah. Compassion fatigue is definitely a real thing. And I think especially now, as we’re entering our, I don’t know how long it’s been a year and a half in this pandemic. And I think people are exhausted on so many different levels, emotionally drained, but compassion fatigue is just that it’s you want to be compassionate, you want to give, you want to do your best for everybody that comes to the door. And at some point you need to take care of yourself. And there’s a lot of information out there for librarians or library staff about how to take care of yourself, what is self care?
And there’s also vocational awe, which is the idea that we can do everything. And we always have to be on and we always have to be perfect and we always have to provide the exact right information and we never can be not in the mood to do it. And we have this really high expectation for us, for ourselves.
So, yes, I think that both of those we need to acknowledge. Part of the issue with both of those is that we have this expectation that we’re gonna save the world or save this person. And it’s not our job to do that. It’s not our job to find somebody housing. It’s not our job to find somebody to make sure that they have a safe shower. It’s not our job to make sure they have a job. It’s not our job to make sure that a family comes in and was looking for a list of preschools finds the perfect preschool. That’s not our job. Our job is just to help people connect. And I think that the more that we can do that and realize that it’s not our job to fix people’s lives; it’s just our job to listen to them and provide connections, hopefully the less fatigued we are. But I also think we need to be aware of that.
And maybe we’re on the desk too long and maybe we need to say, I need a break. And I know, especially rural libraries, I think it’s especially hard because there’s small staff, not a lot of money, so I think it’s hard to take care of ourselves. I believe that taking action that will change this situation for people in the long run will help with our need for compassion. It will be better for us and it’ll be better for them.
So it’s complicated. When I worked in jails and prisons, I did it for seven years and then I realized that I don’t know if it was compassion fatigue, or maybe it was, but I was starting to become cynical. And that’s when I stopped, when I started thinking, yeah, you say, you’re not going to come back, but you are going to come back. I don’t feel that way. I think that the system is bad, but somehow there was a part of my brain that was starting to say that. So I think we do need to be careful.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. And you mentioned a word I was going to move to next, which was action, because again, we can have these conversations, all we want, but something has to be done. So in the book, you talk about creating an action plan. How can a library prepare themselves for creating a plan for action?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: I do definitely go over that in the book. I’m a big believer in action. I think you can only talk so much about things and then you just need to take action. And so if a library decides that they want to do something to address homelessness, I have a template in the book that the first thing is to, is to find out more about your community. Gather as many statistics as you can. If you live in a large urban area, you can use the point in time count statistics through HUD. If you live in a rural area, you have to reach out to smaller organizations, churches, YMCA, YWCA, schools. You can get a lot of information from the McKinney-Vento liaison at the schools, but however you do it, it’s important to gather the information about what’s happening in your community, and then reach out to some of these organizations that are working with people experiencing homelessness and find out what their challenges are, what are their needs.
If you could have a focus group, or what’s called asset-based community development where you are going into the community and having groups and listening to people and what would they like to see changed. After you do all that, then come up with some idea and it could be really, really tiny to start with. It doesn’t have to be, we’re going to provide housing for everybody in the city. It could be something really small, like, we’re going to have a coffee and conversation group, and we’re going to see if people would be interested in that. There were several programs that came from the community.
So really that’s what I would encourage a library to do is to listen to your community and then come up with a plan. The template in the book talks about, you come up with an idea and then you look at your assets, like what do you have going for you as a library? Maybe you have a really strong Friends group who would help provide some funds, or maybe you have a community that actually supports you addressing homelessness. Because a lot of communities don’t support their libraries addressing homelessness, because they think it’s a waste of taxpayer money.
Maybe you have a community meeting room or small meeting rooms, whatever you have, make a list of your assets and how that would help. And then look at who are your possible partners and who could you work with? And then barriers, I hate to even use the word barriers, but you have to look at what could get in the way of doing this. So maybe it’s the staff would be resistant because they have an expectation of what experiencing homelessness looks like. And so maybe, they would be resistant, so look at what the barriers are. And then how would you overcome those barriers? Come up with specific steps and then if you need funding, where will you get the funding and then how will you actually implement it and how will you evaluate it?
And that’s another example of what a lot of libraries do is they start with staff training. And the advantage to starting with staff training is that not only helps the staff understand people experiencing homelessness, but it also breaks down a lot of the barriers and it’s a way of being a partner with some organizations. Cause you could bring in somebody who works with people who are unhoused or the McKinney-Vento liaison or a social worker or somebody who has expertise, who could talk about what trauma informed care is or what that looks like in a library, or what’s a harm reduction and some of the terms that you might have to, to learn so that you can work comfortably with people who may be exhibiting the results of the trauma that they’re experiencing while they’re living on the streets.
And I have a example of that one of my daughters used to work in something called clubhouse, which is during the day people were unhoused come in during the day and they use computers and they get job training and it’s helping people move on in their lives. So they come in and she was telling me that there was a guy who was a volunteer receptionist, who was one of the members of the club. And he would answer the phone. And one day she was walking down the street and she saw him standing on a corner and he was windmilling his arms and talking loudly and manifesting a lot of reactions to trauma because he felt very unsafe out on the street. And this is how he coped. When he was at the clubhouse, he didn’t need those coping mechanisms and it was such a great example. In her mind, she saw just the dramatic difference of what happens when you’re in a safe environment versus what happens when you’re not, and how in a library, if we can make it feel safe, people won’t need to use some of their coping mechanisms. And then we won’t be afraid because they are windmilling their arms or talking loudly to themselves or whatever they’re doing to help themselves.
Steve Thomas: You provide a lot of great tools and things. You’ve got some planning tools and some self-assessments and example action plans and some suggested resources. What are some of the resources that you included in the book that you feel, can really help out?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: One of my goals with this book was definitely focus on the action part of it. So I wanted to provide as much information as I could. And I also teach a library school class called “The Role of Libraries in Addressing Homelessness and Poverty.” And one of the things I do, I think of it as like almost marinating my students in all this information. So I had that in mind while I was putting this book together that I wanted to provide as much information as I could. And I’d say that, one of the things that I would encourage people to look at is the responses from the social workers. I went onto one of the listservs that is social workers in libraries, and I asked them, I said, would it be okay if I ask you some questions and put the answers in the book? And so they said fine. And so there are some questions in there. Like what would you like library staff to know? And what have you learned working in libraries and what are your suggestions? And they’re right there in a library and they are not library staff. So they are seeing it from the outside and from the inside. So I think that their insights are really powerful.
I also think that the self-assessment checklist is really also an important tool. As it says in the book, I took it from a self assessment checklist that I got from Info People that was originally from a class on serving people who spoke Spanish. So I adapted it from that, but I think that just looking at that and seeing what is your library doing and how are you incorporating the ideas of people experiencing homelessness, people experiencing poverty, people experiencing food insecurity. How has that made its way into your whole library system, not just a librarian here or library staff member there who were aware of it, but how could it become part of your entire system? Because if we don’t institutionalize these ideas, then they come and go with the people that are working at the library. And so I would say that that one is really important.
My students have to do an action plan in the class, and they don’t have to implement the action plan, but they have to create one and they have to do all the things I mentioned about it. They have to gather local information. They have to find a partner, all that stuff, and several of my students actually have been able to implement their action plans.
Steve Thomas: This is something that you really need to have your staff on board with the way your organization wants to address this issue, because it is a really important one.
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Absolutely. Your staff has to be on board. Our media and our society in general are so terrible about people experiencing homelessness. It’s unbelievable. A lot of violence, people get beaten up and killed on the streets just for not being housed, which is amazing. There’s a report that comes out regularly, that talks about that. Yeah, people are afraid. They’re afraid of people who might have some sort of mental health challenge and have to go to the library instead of sitting in their home with their mental health challenge, and they’re not getting the meds they need, or there’s just so much trauma that they’re dealing with. So yeah, having staff understand that I think is really critical.
I moderated a panel a few years ago in Berkeley and the local online news person happened to be there. And I don’t think I realized she was there, but I was criticizing them because they had an article that said something like “Homeless Man Attacks Woman” or something like that was the headline of their article, and I said, if somebody’s housed, you don’t say “Housed Person Attacks Woman” like what is their housing status have to do with the incident? And so we need to really be watching, like, how are we using that term and what is it shorthand for? And that’s another appendix in my book is about how to select children’s and why a books that don’t buy into these disrespectful and misleading representations of homelessness, where they become stand-ins or tokens for something that we’re trying to say, and we just need a generalization. So we’ll just throw in the person is homeless. Just like people did a librarians, right? Like, oh, it was a white woman with a bun who loved to read, and I need that kind of character in my books. I’ll throw in a librarian, you know, it’s just these stereotypes just need to go away.
Steve Thomas: Yes, absolutely. If people have questions about the book, or about this interview, how can they get in touch with you?
Julie Ann Winkelstein: They’re welcome to email me. My email is J-W-I-N-K-E-L-S. So “J Winkles,” short for Winklestein, @utk.edu.
Steve Thomas: All right, and I hope everybody does read the book cause you got a lot of good resources in there especially if you’re just getting started and trying to think about how to tackle this issue. So again, the book is called Libraries and Homelessness: an Action Guide. And Julie, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about it and to illuminate my listeners.
Julie Ann Winkelstein: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.