The subject of this TIHATL is R, the same man I wrote about in the previous TIHATL post. Things have gone from bad to worse. He is pale, unshaven, and unsteady on his feet. And he is incontinent. When he stands up, the seat he's been sitting on is soaked. Yesterday the whole library smelled of urine. Other customers commented on it and left.
I need to speak with R. But it's complicated: how do you have a private conversation on an extremely sensitive topic with someone who is severely hearing impaired, and doesn't use a hearing aid? To speak with him, you have to shout. Clearly I can't shout about this.
Further complicating the situation, it is very cold here, and many people are coming into the library to keep warm. We've heard R tell other customers that he lost all his belongings in a fire. So clearly he is experiencing homelessness.
I collected some tips from other library managers. I didn't learn anything too surprising, but their experiences and support helped me feel capable of doing what needs to be done. My staff have watched all the relevant training videos, especially the ones created by Ryan Dowd. Dowd is a social worker-turned-educator who has made a name for himself on this topic.
Yesterday I sat down facing R and asked how he is doing. He said he has been to the hospital but was not admitted. I asked if anyone is working with him, like a caseworker. I looked directly at him, in case he can lip-read. But I didn't shout, as there were other customers in the branch. I don't know whether he understood me or not.
R said, "Last night I nearly froze to death," and wanted to wait in the library until the shelter opens. At least the shelter is opening two hours early, at 3:00 pm, because of the frigid weather. We called a taxi for R and made sure he got in.
Then staff and I put on gloves, found some disinfectant and odor neutralizer in the janitor's closet, and got to work. (Then, predictably, I had a coughing fit, triggered by the cleaning spray.) We also left a note for the janitor to disinfect all seating surfaces.
Today I'm going to the social service agency to see if anyone can connect with R and get him some help. He needs a shower, some clean clothes, and adult diapers. He needs a place to live, but that's probably out of the question. But like so many of our customers, he needs so much more than the library can give him.