Resources for Helping Unhoused Patrons
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
- How Libraries are Helping the Unhoused—BookRiot
- Strengthening Communities: The Role of the Public Library as a Site of Connection—Homeless Hub
- An open-doors policy—The Daily Sentinel
- San Diego adds social worker to assist homeless public library patrons—Divewire
- ShowerUp, a team effort, helps the homeless: A collaboration between nonprofits, the library and village hall—Forest Park Review
- Project Uplift in 4th year connecting homeless with resources—Commercial-News
- A Place to Belong: McCormick Library pilots a new approach to homeless, troubled patrons—The Burg
Explore these tools and resources for helping unhoused patrons
- IFLA Checklist and Guidelines for Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness
- Library Anchor Models for Bridging Diversity Achievements (LAMBDA)—IMLS-funded project to provide continuing education and improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of library staff who are interested in creating programs that develop and improve services to homeless LGBTQA+ youth.
- Resources for Public Libraries Serving Persons Experiencing Homelessness—Public Library Association
- Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force—Website, blog, and more resources from the ALA Social Responsibilities Roundtable.
- ALA Outreach Resources for Services to Poor and Homeless People including Extending Our Reach: Reducing Homelessness Through Library Engagement.
- Annual Homeless Assessment Report—the Department of Housing and Urban Development releases annual reports estimating the amount of homelessness in the U.S.
- Serving Homeless Patrons in the Public Library: What can librarians do?—This resource from the University of Illinois School of Information Science offers tips and resources for interacting with all library visitors, regardless of their housing status.
- Public Libraries Respond to the Opioid Crisis with Their Communities—A WebJunction and PLA project exploring how public libraries are supporting their communities through the opioid crisis.
Learn more with these webinars and courses
- Social Work Approaches to Library Services—this WebJunction webinar explores how a range of social work approaches can be applied to help improve library services.
- Homelessness in Small and Rural Communities: Libraries Can Help!—WebJunction webinar
- Whole Person Librarianship: Fostering Empathy in Challenging Times—WebJunction webinar
- Mental Health First Aid and Trauma-Informed Approaches for Libraries—WebJunction webinar
- Balancing Books and Social Issues: Homelessness and Trauma—Infopeople webinar
- Serving People Experiencing Homelessness at your Library—Infopeople webinar
- Addressing Homeless Issues—free tutorial from Niche Academy and Ryan Dowd
- 2022 SRRT Homelessness Summit—Hosted 14 November, 2022. To help bring awareness to homelessness, both as a social justice issue and in connection to libraries, ALA's SRRT hosted the first ever Homelessness Summit.
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 HomelessLibary.com 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
- Trauma Informed Services in Libraries—Facebook group
- Libraries and Homeless Patrons—Facebook group
Explore more reading on libraries and homelessness
- The librarian's guide to homelessness: an empathy-driven approach to solving problems, preventing conflict, and serving everyone by Ryan Dowd
- 'Homelessness is not a disease': living library offers stories from the streets—This CBC News feature shares stories from two people who have lived experience of being unhoused.
- WebJunction's Social Library Homelessness Edition (2017)