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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 41.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Reopened Madison Central Library welcomes back homeless
Design purposely allows patrons to blend in
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Froistad: "We think of this as a place where the whole community can gather."
Froistad: "We think of this as a place where the whole community can gather."

Carol Froistad invites people walking around the newly renovated Madison Central Library to see if they can spot any homeless people.

"There are quite a few here," she says. "Do you see them?"

It's not that Froistad, who is the library's community services manager, is trying to hide or scare off homeless people. Rather, the library was designed to make everyone feel comfortable.

"When you're here, you blend in," she says. "You don't have to look like you're homeless. You're part of the community, and we think of this as a place where the whole community can gather."

The library has long been a haunt for people with no other place to go. Library officials hope they return and are working to provide services for them.

Dane County officials had hoped to have a permanent resource center up and running by now. But they have been unable to find a location. A request for proposals turned up no new possibilities last week.

With few places to go during the day, many homeless people will likely rely on the library to get out of the cold. As a result, local officials are trying to provide some services for them there.

Shine608, the service provider that ran the county’s day shelter last winter, is expected to offer 40 hours of services a week in the facility. The proposal, which still has to be approved by both the county board and Common Council, calls for the city pitching in $13,550 and the county $8,000, says Shine's Sarah Gillmore.

The library will provide a conference room, with phone and computer access, where providers can meet with clients. Gillmore might also hold some classes. She anticipates helping people apply for identification cards, housing, Social Security and other benefits. She'll also be there to help "people recognize that we belong somewhere."

Other agencies will also have a presence at the library, Froistad says. Although not all relationships have been finalized, she hopes Porchlight, Tellurian and the Salvation Army will be included.

Froistad says the library has relaxed some rules, but not others. You can now eat there, but getting caught with alcohol will get you banned for a year.

The library's limit on two bags per patron remains in place. Froistad says staff are experimenting with giving large plastic bags to people who have many smaller bags, as a way to temporarily consolidate their possessions.

And although most homeless people still cannot get a library card, staff will keep books for homeless patrons at the counter, where they can retrieve them each day.

Gillmore says she's happy to help out at the library, but adds that it doesn't eliminate the need for a day resource center.

"The library doesn't have showers, it doesn't have storage," she says. "Nothing has stopped as far as our commitment for a day shelter."

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