The Homeless Mathematician

When I was growing up, an unusual houseguest would show up at our door every few years. With steeply-arched eyebrows, a mile-wide grin, gigantic ears that looked like they could flap in the wind, and a wild tousle of white hair, he seemed to my 8-year-old self to resemble nothing less than an oversized hamster or rabbit. In a distinctive, nasal-whiney voice he would utter words in some unintelligible language that nevertheless seemed related to English. He called me and my brother “epsilons” and spoke of a mysterious food called “pea-napple-uppsheed-did-doven-tosh.” After a couple of weeks, he would disappear as suddenly as he had shown up.

Only years later, as an adult, did I learn that this man was one of the most famous mathematicians in the world: Paul Erdős. Continue reading “The Homeless Mathematician”

Finding Potter’s Field: Indigent Burial in the United States

A patron recently called the library to ask what happens when someone dies without means to pay for cremation or burial. In some cases, such a person might have no living relatives. In others, the identity of the deceased is simply unknown.

Here’s what we learned: Continue reading “Finding Potter’s Field: Indigent Burial in the United States”

Homelessness and Our Society: A Deeper Dive

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that supports the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

As you may know, the Central Library is currently presenting a thought-provoking and poignant exhibit, called Streetwise Revisited. We’ve put together some great resources that focus on the “heart” of the matter—the poignancy and sometimes despair of living without a home, the interaction of feeling and art, fiction and film treatments of homelessness, and more.  But what about the “head” aspect, of why homelessness exists in our society, why it is so persistent and pervasive, and where we can go in addressing it?

If you want to do a deeper dive into these questions, take a look at these three examples to spur thinking and discussion in these works! Continue reading “Homelessness and Our Society: A Deeper Dive”

Streetwise Revisited: Homeless Youth

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that supports the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

Every year the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness conducts a One Night Count, a county-wide effort to count the number of individuals sleeping on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing.  They also conduct another count that focuses exclusively on youth ages 12-25 called Count Us In, now in its sixth year.  The results of the 2015 Count Us In efforts reported a staggering – and increasing – number of youth and young adults without reliable housing.  Over 800 youth did not have housing on January 22, 2015.   Within those results are some figures that are especially troubling: fully one third of homeless youth identify as Black/African American, and nearly one quarter identify as LGBTQ.  These numbers make it clear that we, as a city and county, have a lot of work to when it comes to supporting youth who are struggling.  Continue reading “Streetwise Revisited: Homeless Youth”

Mary Ellen Mark: Eyeing Life

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that support the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

The undiffused difference between the placid suburb of her youth and the rough-edged city that surrounded it became quickly apparent. In she went with her lens widening as a jagged journey ensued. Lengths and dimensions of lives spread across cityscapes of lost dreams, nightmarish realities, and undying hope.

Pike
Tiny on Pike Street Seattle, Washington, 1983

Mary Ellen Mark made her mark when the book Streetwise was first published in 1988.  Within the reeking insides of a city, runaway children observed yet another stranger inserting herself into the frame of their lives.  Who else could she be except a question dangling itself before their eyes until it, too, disappeared after having received an answering look.

Look, I don’t have to tell you that in this world there are streets not meant to be crossed and sidewalks one dare not step onto less the last step at the far end of the block means curbing your own life. The innocent are not spared, the guilty go on to greater gory and there, midway, on that tumultuous street is a woman with a camera that haunts the harm.  She knows how, even absent the suburban enclave of a carefully manicured life, life remains hungry for itself.  A woman with a camera arrives a stranger and leaves with your face in her hands. Continue reading “Mary Ellen Mark: Eyeing Life”