Social Library, Homelessness Edition

Jennifer Peterson /

Image courtesy Denver Public Library

In this special edition of our Social Library series, we're featuring Facebook posts from libraries who connect with community members experiencing homelessness. These include a community resource specialists program, a homeless veteran raising awareness of homelessness, a donation drive as part of the annual homelessness count, a One Book, One Community project focused on housing instability and an early morning Coffee & Conversation program.

In conjunction with this special edition, we've posted a collection of resources on Libraries and Homelessness, including webinars, courses, videos and articles. If you have resources and examples to share related to libraries serving the homeless, please let us know, and we'll add to the collection!

  • Denver Public Library in Colorado shared news that they've added three peer navigators to their community resource specialist team, to "provide referrals to resources such as housing, mental health and/or substance abuse services and assist with benefit acquisition for library customers experiencing poverty and homelessness." The new peer navigator program recognizes that sometimes the best way to understand something is to hear it explained by someone who has been in your shoes. In addition to providing referrals, the peer navigators "will work to connect with the homeless community that uses the library for warmth, rest, shelter, entertainment and to work on projects. They will hold private group sessions and will be able to spread the word about the availability of the library's two community resource specialists, which isn't always known." The initial program began in February 2015 with the hiring of Elissa Hardy, the first social worker to join the staff. You can read more about their community resource specialists program in the recent Denver Voice article.
  • Johnson County Public Library in Indiana shared a post with the story of Timothy Watt, a homeless veteran who is traveling around the state for two years to raise awareness of homelessness and hunger. "He visited the Franklin Branch - Johnson County Public Library to research charities around Johnson County to give them part of the donations that he receives." The article in Johnson County's Daily Journal also says that Mr. Watt uses library computers to provide updates on his journey in a Facebook group, Harry Homeless HIPPIE's Hike 2 Benefit Hoosier Homeless & Hungry.
  • Spokane Public Library in Washington posted about the upcoming annual Point-in-Time Count of homeless individuals and families that the city conducts with the library and other partners. In the video, the mayor shares that the library is a drop-off location for community donations of socks, hats, hand warmers, foot warmers, coats, diapers and more. This is the first year the city has incorporated a donation drive as part of the annual homelessness count, and they plan to hold a second drive later in the year and on an as-needed basis.
  • Image courtesy L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library‎ on Facebook
  • L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library‎ in Wisconsin selected a book for their One Book, One Community program that addresses the topic of eviction and homelessness. "One Book, One Community is a reading program designed to encourage literacy and community involvement by reading a single book which highlights issues relevant to our community." Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, explores the stories of eight Milwaukee families and their experience with housing instability. An article in the Chippewa Valley Post details the selection of the book for this year's One Book, One Community, and includes additional information on the program.
  • Dallas Public Library (DPL) in Texas posted the recent KERA news story about the library's work serving those in the community experiencing homelessness. Over the past five years, the library has taken a number of different approaches to serving homeless patrons, and the improvements and impacts are many. A 2015 WebJuction webinar included DPL librarian Jasmine Africawala, presenting on the Coffee & Conversation program, hosted before the library opens in the morning.

Thank you to all these libraries for their great work, and if you'd like to see your library featured in future Social Library editions, please let us know via [email protected] or find us on Facebook.