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By Siobhan Callahan and Sinthu Ramalingam

Library patrons said this week that the rape of a 19-year-old autistic woman at the Forsyth County Central Library has raised fears about safety at the downtown library.

“Our concerns were definitely heightened by the recent event,” Darren Rhodes said. “We will now think twice about safety before bringing our children back.”

Rhodes and his wife frequently come to the library with their three children to pick out books or to attend the children programs; however, he said security must be improved.  He believes the incident stirred fear not only between him and his wife, but among most library patrons.

According to the police report, during a visit to the library with her daughter, a mother returned to the second floor after browsing another section to find a man sexually assaulting her daughter.  Edward Boone Davis, 51, was accused of raping the 19-year-old woman. Police say the victim has autism spectrum disorder.

Assistant Police Chief Connie Southern confirmed that Davis lives at the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, as stated in the police report. Representatives at the Bethesda Center refused to comment on the event. The Bethesda Center, located at 930 N. Patterson Ave, is the largest provider of emergency night shelter and the area’s only day shelter for homeless men and women, according to the center’s website.

Rhodes was not the only library customer concerned about security at the library. Chris Blake, born in Winston-Salem, has been coming to the library since the ‘60s.  He now uses the library to check out DVDs and books to watch and read while working as a security watch at Wells Fargo.

“There always a security presence but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Rhodes said.

Not all patrons blame the incident on poor security, Patty Chambers, another library frequenter, feels there is always enough security. She noted that she never feels unsafe while browsing books in the library.

“I think people feel safe here,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, bad things can happen everywhere.”

In addition to poor security, the incident raises concerns about the homeless population in Winston-Salem. Rev. Russ May works with homeless people in Winston-Salem. May started a ministry, Anthony’s Plot, where he lives and works with homeless people.  According to May, many of those going through homelessness feel isolated, and surrounding them with community can be a large helping factor.

When May works with homeless people in Winston-Salem, they interact directly with the library, using its space for many things, from meetings of currently and former homeless persons, to meeting space for a street newspaper that they publish.

Although May works with many homeless people, he is not sure if he has worked with Davis, and cannot speak specifically to his case. Upon hearing of the incident, May had two initial reactions; frustration and sadness.

“I think that there are some truths that are kind of locked within this really unfortunate thing that happened,” said May. “One of them is that there are a lot of mental and behavioral health care needs that many folks who are homeless have.” May added that the gap in services for those who are homeless is a lot larger for those who are homeless.

According to May, the homeless population does not have the same resources available to them as the general population has available. Therefore, any problems that would be addressed for a member of the general population may not be addressed for a member of the homeless population.

May noted that Winston-Salem does not have any other place that gives homeless people the same amount of benefits that the library does, and the library has helped bridge the gap between the homeless people of Winston-Salem.

“The library has been there for them,” May said.  “To displace this population from the library does no more for our society; does no more for Winston-Salem.”

“It seems to be that there are always a certain number of people in our city and our community who have diagnosis of mental and behavioral health care needs,” May said. “There are just not enough resources out there to help them to improve.”

May does think that keeping the homeless population away from the Central library would be detrimental.

“For many homeless, the library is an incredible resource; a necessary resource,” said May “There’s nothing like it in the city for the homeless.”

Published October 24, 2013

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