For months now, the Forsyth County Central Library has been closed for renovations. The downtown community has lost a place to read and check out books, surf the internet, research and relax. Others lost even more: a bathroom, a warm haven to get away from the cold, peace and safety. These are Winston-Salem’s homeless.
“To them, they’ve lost a second home,” said Jose Perez, the Forsyth County Public Library (FCPL) peer support specialist. Perez said he saw over 20 homeless people using the Central Library on a regular basis.
“It was a safe environment for them to get away,” said Perez.
Perez became the Central Library’s peer support specialist in 2012 and now holds the title for the entire library system. His job is to help the homeless that come to the libraries. Perez uses “resources and services in the community to get them where they need to be,” he said. This is often in terms of housing, food vouchers and more. As someone who was previously homeless, Perez can relate to many of homeless people’s situations and acts as a counselor, someone to talk to.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, a college student or a senior citizen. [The library] was open for everyone,” said Richard Cassidy, a member of Anthony’s Plot.
Anthony’s Plot is a Christian non-profit organization, with a house, based in Winston-Salem. Anthony’s Plot is geared to helping those that are homeless or are struggling and on the path to homelessness. Cassidy, who was once homeless himself as well, is now in charge of the technology at Anthony’s Plot.
Many people Cassidy has come across used the Central Library.
“When it was open, there were times that we, Anthony’s Plot, used a room in the library as an office because we knew people were there,” said Cassidy. Several he saw every day.
Cassidy has noticed that one of the biggest problems the renovation has caused for the homeless population is the loss a bathroom.
“There are no bathrooms downtown, no public restrooms,” said Cassidy. He clarified, “for people not spending money, there is not a restroom.”
Most restaurants, hotels and shops only allow access to their restrooms if a purchase is made. With the Central Library closed, another basic life necessity was taken away from the homeless, explained Cassidy.
The renovation of the Central Library, located on West 5th Street, is the first renovation since its last, and only, renovation in the 1980s. The renovation is projected to be completed by the spring of 2017.
Many groups are working to help the homeless even more during this renovation. Compassionate Winston-Salem, an organization that leads compassionate acts in the community, held a panel, moderated by a member of Anthony’s Plot, last month discussing the homeless situation in downtown Winston-Salem. Also, many of the churches downtown have overflow shelters, including Centenary United Methodist Church and Lloyd Presbyterian Church. The shelter at Lloyd Presbyterian plans to open its doors earlier this year.
Many of the Central Library’s homeless users now use some of the other FCPL locations. Perez has noticed that many of the Central Library regulars have made the journey to Southside Library on Buchanan Street and Reynolda Manor Branch Library on Fairlawn Drive.
Winston-Salem Police Department bike patrol officer Sergeant Kevin Bowers has also noticed a similar pattern since the renovation.
“Since the closing, a number of the homeless people have been going to the other library branches,” Bowers said. “I have also noticed more of the homeless population hanging out more at Corpening Plaza.”
“Anyone can fall into their situation at any given moment. You get hit the wrong way and don’t know how to handle it,” said Perez. “The general population takes the library for granted.”
In terms of the Central Library’s reopening, Perez said that to the homeless, “many say looking forward to it is a huge understatement.”