Resources for Helping Unhoused Patrons

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Libraries are central to our communities, as places where anyone is welcome to gather, connect, and learn, but for some members of our community, they represent much more than that. For many people experiencing homelessness, the library might be the only place where they can seek shelter during daylight hours. Access to technology that allows people to stay in touch with family and friends, apply for jobs, and seek online support for social services, can all be powerful lifelines. Along with safe restrooms and drinking water, a comfortable place to sit, or a chance to escape the heat or cold with a good read—these are things that can be easy to take for granted but are vital for our community members who lack housing.

The work libraries do in helping people facing housing insecurity goes far beyond providing an open, welcoming space. Increasingly, people are turning to libraries for direction in times of crisis. When someone is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to go to find help, they often start at their community library.

As the scope of services people seek from libraries continues to expand, so does the need for more resources to support libraries and library staff. This collection of resources can help support your work as you support your community.

Libraries and homelessness in the news

Explore these tools and resources for helping unhoused patrons

Learn more with these webinars and courses

Crunched for time? Check out these podcasts so you can listen and learn on the go

  • FYI Podcast – Serving Homeless Patrons with John Spears—This discussion covers challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned while serving patrons experiencing homelessness at Pikes Peak Public Library in Colorado.
  • The Room of Requirement: Growing Shelf Awareness—This selection from Episode #664 of This American Life gives a personal account of how the Dubuque, Iowa library once was a safe haven for a young girl and her family when they had nowhere else to go.
  • Getting Home—In this episode of Brooklyn Public Library’s Borrowed podcast, you can hear directly from patrons experiencing homelessness about their experiences and their ideas for how libraries can do an even better job welcoming all patrons.

Watch and learn

  • Books Are My Weapon—A short documentary about Brooklyn Public Library librarian Donald Peebles, who has lived experience of experiencing homelessness.
  • The Public—This drama, written and directed by Emilio Estevez, follows the fictionalized stories of a group of homeless patrons who seek shelter in the Cincinnati Public Library during a brutal winter cold front.
  • A Librarian's Guide to Homelessness—This video presentation by Ryan Dowd of gives an overview of homelessness and associated issues, recommendations for how to engage with individuals respectfully, and tips for navigating difficult situations in the library.
  • The Street Librarian—Laura Moulton created a library on wheels to make sure people living outside had access to good books, Portland, OR
  • Homeless Engagement Initiative - Dallas Public Library—short video overview of the Dallas Public Library’s Homeless Engagement Initiative

Connect with others doing this work

Explore more reading on libraries and homelessness