Each month, we profile a library: Large, small, urban, rural, post-modern, quaint or neo-classic. This month Patricia Vaccarino writes about the many ways that libraries provide comfort to the homeless.
Public Libraries are central to every community. All are welcome in the public library regardless of faith, ethnicity, race or economic status. For the homeless, libraries are also a place to come in from the cold, a place to call home during the day. Aside from providing warmth, safety and relative comfort for free, libraries also offer many services to the homeless.
The library offers free computer use and access to the internet. People who are homeless can use the computers to find services that meet their essential needs for housing, healthcare and education. Many libraries offer assistance with building a resume, completing job applications and conducting job searches.
Some libraries serve the homeless at a higher level. The San Francisco Public Library has a social service program. Leah Esguerra, LMFT, is the first full-time library social worker in the nation. As a psychiatric social worker, Ms. Leah Esguerra has a regular schedule of making the rounds to check in with homeless patrons to see how she can help them. She managers the SFPL social service plan and its six Health and Safety Associates, who are library outreach workers. Called HASAs, these outreach workers have lived experience with homelessness. The library social workers can also assist patrons with issues related to education, emergency services, employment and family matters.
The San Jose University Library is one of the first academic libraries to serve the homeless. By collaborating with non-profit organizations, the library is able to offer classes in computers, family literacy and nutrition. Library staff members have found that providing book clubs to the homeless has proven to be an effective way to build relationships. The library also provides enough reading space so the homeless have a place to read. This is a way to counteract library policy that does not issue library cards to people who do not have an address.
The Dallas Public Library has a “Coffee and Conversation” program, a bimonthly event held between their staff and homeless patrons to better serve the homeless in Dallas.
During the great shutdown of 2020, many libraries were closed. Homeless patrons lost a valuable friend in the library and, maybe, the one place they could call home. See what the libraries offer to the homeless in your area, and if they are not offering a program, it’s up to you to make a suggestion. Keep in mind, libraries require face coverings for service and maintaining six feet of social distancing between patrons.