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Resource and refuge

LIHUE — Linda Jester doesn’t have a home.

The Kauai woman spends the bulk of her day trying to arrange for a place to sleep at night. Seeking work and permanent housing and visiting food banks typically fills out her days.

One place has been a huge help as she navigates through her journey — public libraries. She uses the computers there to check email, apply for housing and jobs and even as a place of refuge.

“It makes you feel more normal,” Jester said of the public libraries.

It’s an opinion the American Library Association has shared for decades. Twenty-five years ago, the ALA adopted a policy urging full access for poor and homeless library patrons. And with libraries across the nation facing shrinking patron numbers as more people have access to reading materials and computers at their home, the homeless represent a bigger chunk of libraries’ visitor numbers, according to the Associated Press.

Kauai’s six libraries don’t track whether patrons are homeless. All clientele just have to adhere to the rules.

Jei-Nhy Quirantes, technician with the Waimea Branch Public Library, said everyone is welcome as long as they are respectful to the other patrons and staff.

If they are, they can access the stationary computers, air laptops and netbooks, which seem to be the most valuable technology resource for patrons, whether they’re playing games, checking emails, job hunting or taking online extension courses.

Some of the library’s material is specified for those looking for work. The single most important thing libraries can help people do online is find a job, the ALA found. Even fast food restaurants require online applications. 

“We have online programs like the language learning,” Quirantes said. “We have a partnership with the Learn for Life program to provide basic job skills, bookkeeping and other work training.”

The six Kauai branches — Koloa, Lihue, Kapaa, Princeville, Hanapepe and Waimea — have about 362,000 visitors per year. That number is an approximated count based on one week in October.

The most visited library on Kauai is Koloa, at 87,256 patrons. That’s followed by Lihue with 80,055, Kapaa at 76,232, Princeville at 66,768, Hanapepe with 42,848 and Waimea with an estimate of 8,942, which was low because it had been closed for renovations at the time.

Lihue Public Library Manager Michelle Young said patrons come in to use the free Internet access and computers. All the libraries require an address to obtain a card, but there’s leeway on the address they can use.

“We just need a working mailing address to contact them,” Young said. “If that is a shelter or a friend’s house, it is fine as long as it is a reliable address.”

Patrons can sign up for one hour Internet sessions, are allowed to use flash drives, and can print from the computer for 15 cents a page.

Joel Dell, who came to Kauai five years ago looking for a healing experience, has bounced around the island without a permanent home. The library is a social place for him to connect with familiar people in the neighborhood.

Even his friends with homes take advantage of the Internet.

“My friends who have homes will not get a phone and use that money for something else and use Internet phones on library WiFi,” he said.

The Hawaii State Public Library System on Oahu does not have a homeless policy but does have programs targeting the homeless, interim state librarian Stacie Kanno said. When staff is available and the budget allows, HSPLS offers presentations to groups that work with the homeless.

Lihue library patron Catherine “Arrabellah” DeSilva likes to check her email and check out books just like everyone else there, and doesn’t worry if others there have homes.

She goes to the library because she doesn’t have a computer and she likes to volunteer there now that she is retired.

“The libraries are very good for the people,” she said.

Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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