As emotions run high in Santa Paula regarding its homeless population, the Blanchard Community Library is offering a new perspective on the situation through a series of lectures and a community reading project.

The library received a grant through Book to Action, a program of the California Center for the Book, which expands the idea of a book club to include events with authors and lecturers on the subject. For Santa Paula, the author Britt Collins’ novel Strays was chosen by Adult Services Librarian Justin Formanek.

“A lot of people are more inclined to feel more compassion for animals, I think, than they do people a lot of the time,” said Formanek. The book follows a homeless man who adopts a stray cat only later to learn that the cat has a home, leaving him with a tough decision on whether or not to return it.

Formanek, a new resident of Santa Paula, says that he wasn’t aware of the goings on in the city before choosing the book and that now that he knows, he says that he’d “like to think that wouldn’t have changed my direction.”

In February, the Santa Paula City Council heard from area business owners and residents about their growing concern with the city’s increasing population of homeless individuals, some of whom, they said, had exhibited aggressive behavior.

At the center of the controversy is the food pantry known as SPIRIT of Santa Paula, which also includes social services, a laundry facility, showers and meals for homeless individuals. Formanek’s series begins on May 9 with SPIRIT Director Kay Wilson-Bolton.

Formanek says that as a librarian who has worked in several libraries around the county, he was inspired to launch this series on homelessness from his personal experiences.

“I think the purpose of this, and why that particular book was chosen, is to try to humanize a lot of the folks who are homeless and to make people realize that these are people who live here,” said Formanek. “Hopefully by doing that we can sort of, maybe, turn a little bit of the public opinion and try to get help to the people who are trying to help.”

The series begins on Thursday, May 9, with Wilson-Bolton, who will share how the organization is aiding the homeless in Santa Paula and opportunities for contribution or volunteering. On Monday, May 13, Chris Russell, program manager of Ventura County’s homeless services, will address the state of homelessness in the county and available resources.

The documentary film The Advocates will be screened on Thursday, May 16. The film takes a look at the history of homelessness in Los Angeles. The following Monday, May 20, a TEDxBlanchardLibrary viewing party will feature talks on homelessness and poverty. The penultimate event will feature poet Brian Galetto reading from his book Not So Simple: Observations on Poverty and People on Thursday, May 23. 

The series will conclude with a community discussion of Strays on Thursday, May 30, open to adult readers of all levels.

Free copies of Strays are available at The Blanchard Community Library located at 119 N. 8th Street, Santa Paula. For more information, call 805-525-3615 or visit www.blanchardlibrary.org.