With the main Columbus library closed until June, the homeless around Downtown have lost a valuable resource.

With the main Columbus library closed until June, the homeless around Downtown have lost a valuable resource.

When Columbus Metropolitan Libraryofficials decided to close the main branch Downtown during its $35 million renovation, patrons were sure to be put out. None, perhaps, felt it more than the homeless population.

Many of the homeless are regulars at the library on South Grant Avenue, heading there after spending the night on the streets or when Downtown's overnight shelters empty in the early morning. Often, they line up at the library's entrance, waiting for it to open.

The draw? The availability of simple necessities-a warm place, a bathroom, a drinking fountain. Beyond that, the library offers access to computers and a dedicated space for resources to connect the homeless to emergency assistance, medical care and housing options.

Although job-help centers are also available at the library's branches-including its Parsons, Northside, Martin Luther King and Franklinton urban branches-"we realize that getting there is not always an option for people in the homeless community," says library spokesman Ben Zenitsky.

Zenitsky says library officials anticipated the hardships the library's approximate 16-month closure could cause for the homeless. So a coordinated effort with the Capital Crossroads and Discovery special improvement districts-which cover 80 square blocks Downtown-sought a temporary location for the outreach resources the Downtown branch had provided.

When the library closed for construction last April, its homeless outreach services moved to the Open Shelter on East Mound Street, a few blocks west of the main branch.

For two hours a day Monday through Thursday, outreach services connect the homeless to emergency food, shelter and clothing, employment programs, health care providers, permanent housing and substance-abuse treatment, says Lisa Defendiefer, deputy director of operations and advocacy for the special improvement districts.

Community partners include Maryhaven, Health Care for the Homeless, Southeast, Inc. healthcare services, Mount Carmel Community Outreach and Street Medicine program and the Coalition for Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

Bill Cobun, a homeless outreach specialist who works with the improvement districts, sees how meaningful the library is to those living on Downtown's streets. "It has tons of job help, help with writing resumes, those kinds of services," he says. "With the library closed, that's been a little more out of reach."

Maryhaven and the library are longtime partners, says Paul Coleman, Maryhaven's president and CEO. The goal in working with the library and the Downtown improvement districts is to find permanent, supportive housing for those using the library as shelter. The library's staff, Coleman says, provides a strong assist.

"They might tell us, 'This particular person seems to be here regularly and seems to stay for long periods of time. Sometimes they're reading, but often it looks like he or she is just resting.' Then we may approach them respectfully to talk to them about a better place to stay."

The need is great to help people find appropriate housing. Demand for the outreach services is high at the Open Shelter, just as it was at the library. When the library reopens, which is scheduled for June 25, Cobun says the homeless outreach hours may continue and expand at the Open Shelter.

Homelessness is growing in Columbus, he says. "Affordable housing is a big problem. There's not enough single-resident occupancy. There are so many new folks all the time."

Ken Andrews, a longtime homeless advocate for the Open Shelter and Mount Carmel, is more blunt: "We have a tsunami of the homeless."

Andrews questions whether it should be the responsibility of the library to serve as a homeless outreach center, though he has high praise for the staff's willingness to help. "They're librarians, and yet they're kind of like mass social workers. Nobody is really going to understand everything they do."

Defendiefer concurs about the library's value. "It's so many things to so many people."