Leaving the bridge, passing the shelters : understanding homeless activism through the utilization of spaces within the Central Public Library and the IUPUI Library in Indianapolis
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By definition, homelessness refers to general understanding of people without a home or a roof over their heads. As consequences of a number of factors, homelessness has become a serious problem especially in cities throughout the United States. Homeless people are usually most visible on the streets and in settings like shelters due to the fact that their presences and activities in public spaces are considered illegal or at least “unwanted” by city officials and by members of the public. In response to this issue, activists throughout the country have worked tiresly on behalf of homeless people to demand policy changes, an effort that resulted in the passage of the homeless bill of rights in three states, namely Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Illinois. As I discovered through my fieldwork, in Indiana, the homeless, themselves, are currently lobbying for passage of a similar measure. Locating my fieldwork on homelessness in Indianapolis in two sites, the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (the Central Library) and the IUPUI Library, I examine the use of library buildings as alternative temporary shelters and spaces where the homeless can organize for political change. As an Indonesian ethnographer, I utilized an ethnographic approach, which helped me to reveal “Western values” and “American culture” as they play out in the context of homelessness. In this thesis, I show that there is a multi-sited configuration made up of issues, agents, institutions, and policy processes that converge in the context of the use of library buildings by the homeless. Finally, I conclude that public libraries and university libraries as well can play a more important role beyond their original functions by undertaking tangible actions, efforts, engagements, and interventions to act as allies to the homeless, who are among their most steadfast constituencies. By utilizing public university library facilities, the homeless are also finding their voices to call for justice, for better treatment, and for policies that can help ameliorate the hardship and disadvantages of homelessness.