Damaging Stigma of Library Patrons who are Homeless

I am writing in response to a commentary on the New Bedford Public Library and patrons who are homeless, in the February 2nd edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times newspaper.

It worries me that the tragedy that occurred last week is being used as a platform to further criminalize and stigmatize people who are homeless. The commentary outlined how it is "depressing" and a "dirty little secret" that people who are homeless spend their days in the library. He presents a point of view that entangles sexual offenses with homelessness, and sounds as though terrible homeless men are lurking in the corners waiting to attack innocent victims.

It is this kind of thinking that perpetuates the damaging stigma that keeps people homeless.

Alongside the column, there was an article about proposed cuts to the FY2009 budget, which would reduce mental health services and public health funding. It is disturbing that people aren't making the connection between cuts like that and homelessness. People who are homeless are so for diverse reasons, including crises related to financial, emotional, housing, and psychiatric issues and trauma. The solution posed in this column was to develop a day shelter where these "unsuitable" patrons could go.

Instead, why don’t we set our sights on affordable housing, and adequate substance abuse and mental health treatment options, and stop blaming people who are in crisis?

I can appreciate the tragedy caused by the recent assault in the library, and the challenges faced by public servants. However, we should not accept the sweeping and damaging generalizations made about "the homeless" in the city of New Bedford.

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