Last night, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office announced that all Seattle Public Library locations will close at 6 pm today and not reopen until at least April 13th.
This is the right thing to do for the city, and for our library employees. High-traffic public locations like this can't be properly maintained to the hygiene standards necessary to combat coronavirus. The return date on all physical loans out at this time will be extended through April 13th, and the digital collection will still be available to patrons.
As I said, this is a perfectly reasonable decision. The city simply can't ensure the safety of patrons and staff, and so the libraries must be closed.
What is unacceptable, though, is what this means for the city's unhoused population. Here's the paragraph of the release pertaining to our unsheltered neighbors:
Many vulnerable populations, including people living unsheltered, rely on community centers and libraries to provide critical hygiene services. That’s why Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) will continue the shower program for those in need at Delridge, Green Lake, Meadowbrook, Miller and Rainier community centers, and all [Seattle Parks and Recreations] bathrooms and handwashing stations will remain open.
This city simply doesn't have enough safe and clean places for homeless individuals to go. I can attest from personal experience that it's possible to walk for literal miles between public bathrooms in Seattle, and the huge distance between available showers is laughable.
Of course our librarians shouldn't be on the front lines of this city's housing crisis. But we've allowed the situation to atrophy to the point that my first thought when I read that the libraries were closing was that homeless people will die because of this decision.
Through years of neglect and austerity, Seattle has finally hit bottom: there's almost nowhere for our unhoused neighbors to go. Coronavirus has revealed who this city cares for, and who it doesn't.