Durham News

As library closes, Durham County finds alternatives for homeless

Reid Terry had only been a resident of Durham’s Urban Ministries for about a week, but he’d already found a resource in the downtown library.

“I use the computers to search for jobs, check my email,” said Terry, 59, who came to the downtown homeless shelter and community cafe from Tarrboro.

While Terry can use computers at Urban Ministries, some shelter residents visit the downtown library daily for a change of scenery. Other members of the homeless population, who aren’t living in a shelter, may turn to the library for a respite from warm or hot weather, a place to use the bathroom or sit and read.

As Durham County closes the downtown library for two years for a $44.3 million renovation, county officials have been working with Urban Ministries and other organizations to establish options for the homeless and others whose needs go beyond books and programs.

“There have been a number of meetings that the county has participated in with Urban Ministries and a variety of other homeless service providers and other stakeholders,” said Drew Cummings, the county’s chief of staff.

The county has come up with a plan that could shift depending on the needs and response, he said.

Nehemiah Christian Center at 514 N. Mangum St. is offering its community room as a daytime space for those who can’t get to another library but need a warm, safe space and bathrooms.

The county is also working with Urban Ministries and others to offer a rotating set of services, such as a housing counselor.

“We are going to have to be flexible in reacting and responding to the people and the needs that show up there,” Cummings said.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays a computer lab will also set up in the Criminal Justice Resource Center’s multipurpose room at 326 E Main St.

“So we will be setting up the programs on Friday and taking them down on Sunday,” Library Director Tammy Baggett-Best said.

People will have access to computers and workforce development classes will be offered.

In addition, Urban Ministries, which serves breakfast and dinner daily along with providing a bag lunch, will continue to welcome people into its café to escape the elements when temperatures drop below 40 degrees, rise above 95 or there is a hard rain.

They also offer restrooms, water fountains and showers.

As soon as Elizabeth Henry found out the library was closing, she started looking for alternatives.

Henry, 59, who has been at Urban Ministries for about month, said she spends hours at the library on computers taking continuing education classes, checking social media and staying abreast of personal business.

She plans to use the Stanford L. Warren branch on Fayetteville Street. She once made the roughly two-mile walk there, but plans to take the bus from now on.

“I think if people really want to go a library, they can,” she said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges