Library Closures May Adversely Affect Homeless Population

The Denver Public Library rarely shuts down all its locations because of inclement weather, but it did so today.
The Denver Public Library rarely shuts down all its locations because of inclement weather, but it did so today. Wikimedia Commons
When snowstorms hit, ripple effects of public closures, traffic jams and dangerous travel conditions can harm the city's most vulnerable. Today, November 26, is a case in point. It's rough out there for anyone — especially for those who have no home.

All Denver Public Library locations will be closed because of inclement weather today, a step rarely taken by the DPL. (The last time Westword could find a notice of closure because of weather was in December 2013.) The library posted a notice to its website and social media about its decision to close this morning.

With its proximity to Civic Center Park and major transit routes, the Denver Central Library has become a de facto place of refuge and resource-gathering for many of the city's vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homelessness. Other branches have followed suit. In 2017, the library began hiring peer navigators in addition to social workers, who help homeless and mentally ill people connect to services and to society.

The Department of Housing Stability sent out a press release on Monday affirming that there was open space at the shelters the city contracts with. According to Department of Human Services spokesperson Amy Fidelis, space is still available.

Fidelis says considerations are being made to accommodate for the library's closure. Several shelters, as listed in a press release sent by the mayor's office, will open as warming centers during the day. The St. Charles Recreation Center, at 3777 North Lafayette Street, will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. as a warming center for anyone looking to get out of snowy conditions.

"Both our city responders and provider partners are prioritizing outreach to bring people inside," Fidelis wrote to  Westword. According to Fidelis, Denver's shelters have capacity for almost 2,000 individuals, and on average 100 to 150 shelter spaces go unused. However, according to the 2019 Point in Time survey, there are over 500 unsheltered individuals.

A list of shelters accommodating single men, single women, families, unaccompanied youth and transgender individuals can be found on the City of Denver's website.

Denver Public Schools won't have to make a contentious snow day call today, since all schools are closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Denver Public Library will also close early tomorrow, November 27, and all day Thursday, November 28. RTD tweeted this morning that busses are delayed 45 to 60 minutes on most routes, and light rails are delayed 15 to 30 minutes.

Anyone can help those on the streets by distributing survival gear such as tarps, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, and warm-weather clothes, or offering transportation to shelter or warming places. Some organizations, such as Four Winds American Indian Council, have decided to open their doors as de facto warming places in extreme weather events for those who may not feel comfortable in traditional shelters.
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Sara Fleming is a freelance writer and formal editorial fellow at Westword. She covers a wide variety of stories about local politics and communities. A born-and-raised Coloradan, when she's not exploring Denver, she's on a mission to visit every mountain town in the state.
Contact: Sara Fleming