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For many of Oklahoma City's homeless, library offers refuge from reality, the cold

For many of Oklahoma City's homeless, the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library is more than just a civic jewel. For them, it's a place to put aside, if only for a while, the realities of their harsh existence on the cold winter streets.
BY PHILLIP O'CONNOR poconnor@opubco.com Published: December 28, 2012

The Metropolitan Library System, which includes the Norick library, has a code of conduct that, among other things, prohibits barefoot or shirtless patrons and those wearing wet clothes or with offensive body odor.

Library system spokeswoman Kim Terry said the homeless issue played no role in the code's development and that the homeless posed no particular problem.

“I'm sure we get just as many complaints with that as we do with anything else; unattended children, loud cellphones, teens talking back,” Terry said.

Terry said the library does not track individual complaints and would have no way to determine how many complaints involved the homeless.

‘Peace of mind'

On a recent afternoon, both men and women who appeared to be homeless, could be found throughout the downtown library, bundled under heavy layers of grime-stained clothes.

Some sat in the quiet room on library's second floor.

Others filled the computer terminals sprinkled throughout the building, their belongings on the floor beside them in backpacks, gym bags or paper sacks.

Hancock, a big man with a goatee and two missing front teeth, grew up in the Oklahoma City area and said he has been homeless since losing a temp agency job last summer. He said he goes to the downtown library “pretty much every day.”

For the most part, he feels welcome. Sometimes guards get on him for leaving his belongings while he uses the restroom, he said. He's seen guards remove people who were sleeping or drunk, but said he's never had any problems.

In addition to staying warm, he likes to scour the newspaper and read Jack Reacher novels or books by authors John Sandford or John Grisham.

Scott, 43, who said he was on his way to Las Vegas from Tampa Bay, Fla., when he got delayed in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago, prefers to read National Geographic and hunting and fishing magazines.

“You can come here and relax,” Hancock said. “It's quiet and orderly. You just get more peace of mind.”

With that, he and Scott turned and trudged off down the snowy sidewalk.