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News / Clark County News

Libraries have role on, off camera for movie about homelessness

Kiggins to show 'The Public,' and Vancouver Community Library to host discussion

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: April 5, 2019, 9:52pm
2 Photos
Jack Crowley, left, chats with Jamie Spinelli, a case worker with Community Services Northwest, on Dec. 11 in the Vancouver Community Library. Crowley had been homeless for about 34 years but recently got housing. As part of a pilot project, Spinelli works in the library to help connect homeless people with resources.
Jack Crowley, left, chats with Jamie Spinelli, a case worker with Community Services Northwest, on Dec. 11 in the Vancouver Community Library. Crowley had been homeless for about 34 years but recently got housing. As part of a pilot project, Spinelli works in the library to help connect homeless people with resources. (Alisha Jucevic/Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Laura Ellsworth and Dre de Leon joke that the idea for screening “The Public” at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre came about due to their mutual love of Emilio Estevez and Ryan Dowd. You’re likely familiar with writer/director/actor Estevez of “The Breakfast Club” and “The Mighty Ducks” fame, but who is Ryan Dowd?

“He’s kind of a library celebrity. He’s a big deal,” said de Leon, branch supervisor at Vancouver Community Library.

Dowd is the executive director of Hesed House, the second-largest shelter in Illinois, and he wrote “The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness.”

Last fall, he trained local library staff on how to effectively interact with homeless patrons. Dowd and Estevez have been touring the country, promoting “The Public,” which opens April 12 at Kiggins Theatre. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and representatives from the library and Council for the Homeless will speak around 7 p.m. before the film starts.

“We’re fortunate in that homelessness is on the top of everyone’s minds right now,” said Ellsworth, strategic partnerships manager at Council for the Homeless. A mainstream film that looks at homelessness is “a good opportunity to really engage with the community around it,” she said.

“The Public” was shot in January 2017 at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in Ohio. It follows homeless patrons who refuse to leave the library on a subzero night and the librarians who help them, leading to a standoff with police.

Richard Beer, director of programming and marketing for the theater, said the movie came on his radar after a customer saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival. More people, including library staff, said they wanted the Kiggins to show the film.

“The Public” deals with heavy topics but is full of humor and is overall an upbeat, positive film, said Beer, who watched it about a month ago.

“Some people might think it’s dark or dry or something, but it’s entertaining and fast moving,” he said. “I can see librarians getting up and cheering at several points in the film.”

The movie earned 63 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer and 82 percent of audiences liked it, as of Friday.

Friends of Vancouver Community Library bought 100 tickets to “The Public” to give away to interested people, partner agencies, city and county councilors, and those who are or have been homeless. People who show their library card can get $7 tickets on the opening night.

On May 2, the downtown library will host a discussion of “The Public,” topics in the film and tie them back to Clark County’s Homeless Action Plan.

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“We can really give the community a tangible response to what does the picture look like in Clark County? What has been done? What is our system that’s in place? What are our goals in the next couple of years?” Ellsworth said. “Another opportunity around this movie is to just highlight the fact that we don’t have enough emergency shelter, especially in the winter, and we really rely on the generosity of our community to take people in.”

At the end of March, Clark County wrapped up its winter shelter season, a resource that’s primarily provided by the local faith community. Ellsworth said there were 49 times when severe weather was called, meaning the temperatures dropped below freezing or there was ice or snow, and emergency shelters were asked to open.

The severe-weather shelter system has been in place for two years, prompted by a large dumping of snow one winter that took awhile to melt. Pacific Northwest winters are typically mild compared to those in Cincinnati, the city portrayed in “The Public.” In the Midwest, it’s imperative people without homes are provided shelter because they could die of hypothermia.

Clark County Public Health reported no deaths by hypothermia in 2018. Figures for the first quarter of 2019 were unavailable.

Hours of operation

The Salt Lake City Public Library System at one point looked into opening the first 24/7 library but ultimately discontinued the inquiry based on projected costs.

Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries does not operate 24/7 and is not a shelter. The district has had to make decisions around homelessness, which include banning camping around the downtown library, adding a rule that people can only bring in what they can carry in one trip, and making its policies against bathing or washing clothes in its restrooms more explicit.

Through the training with Dowd, the shelter director and author, library staff learned empathy-driven approaches to enforcing the institution’s rules.

“Just like with anybody else, if you treat people with respect and you develop a rapport and you have a good relationship with somebody, it’s going to be a lot easier to have those more difficult conversations,” de Leon said.

Ellsworth said that society has a middle-class lens for what’s considered normal behavior, so poverty is viewed as abnormal, distasteful or threatening.

“Someone said recently that people experiencing homelessness are simultaneously the most scrutinized members of our society and the most invisible members of our society. … That rang very true to me,” she said.

For librarians, it’s a matter of discerning whether someone is doing something that’s truly against the rules or whether other patrons just find that person unpleasant because they’re having to witness their poverty. Rules based on society’s norms and middle class timelines may not work for someone who’s homeless and can’t think beyond the next 24 hours.

Vancouver Community Library recently formed partnerships with Council for the Homeless and Community Services Northwest, where social workers are available in the library and can connect homeless people to resources. One man who frequented the library was homeless for 34 years before he recently got housing.

If You Go

• What: Opening night of “The Public,” rated PG-13. • When: Speakers at 7 p.m., movie starts at 7:30 p.m. April 12. • Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver. • More info:KigginsTheatre.com. • Cost: $10 at the door; $7 with a library card (only on April 12); $7 advance. • • • • What: Community discussion about “The Public.” • When: 6 p.m. May 2. • Where: Columbia Room, Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver. • More info:fvrl.librarymarket.com/public-community-conversation.

“That happened because of the library partnership,” Ellsworth said.

He visited the downtown library the other day.

“He looks great. He’s so stoked,” de Leon said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith