During his three decades on the street, Jean Rice has slept on corners, on benches in Grand Central Station and in a few libraries. These days, the 74-year-old sleeps in his own bed at night — and will soon have a library of his own.
Picture the Homeless, a Fordham-based advocacy group, will dedicate its brand new book room to Rice next month.The humble name of the athenaeum: the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Reference Library.
“Homeless people are more vulnerable than the rest of society,” Rice said. “Many people that are on the streets lack a basic education.”
The formerly homeless Rice has been a board member with Picture the Homeless for 12 years. Much of the group’s work focuses on empowering the homeless through classes and lectures, which Rice believes will be bolstered by the new library.
“We believe in giving people the tools that they need,” said Rice, who works with other poverty-stricken members of the group to educate people about homelessness and social justice. “We are not a service provider, we are an outreach center.”
While the number of people sleeping on the streets has decreased by 2% over the last year, the number of families staying in shelters has risen to record levels, according to city data. The number of homeless people in city shelters each night topped 50,000 for the first time this past January, according to a report by Coalition for the Homeless.
Other formerly homeless members of the group said naming the library after Rice was a no-brainer.
“Jean is like a walking dictionary,” said advocate Marcus Moore. “It’s important having a library in a homeless organization and it's a great thing to have it named after someone who does so much for us.”
The 12-foot-by-12-foot room that will become the study center is currently stacked with milk crates and cardboard boxes full of donated books. Rice said the group is just waiting for shelving. The will be a dedication ceremony on Sept. 18.
“This will be a friendly environment where people will be able to try to help themselves.” And he hopes it will inspire people to help others as well.
“We want people to be engaged, and to understand the policies that affect them,” the civic-minded advocate said. Rice says he is honored to have his name associated with a center that could help others that have struggled with homelessness. “I’ve been there, I know,” he said. “Education is empowerment."