Homelessness Away From Home

I started this blog post intending to exclusively write about how libraries can partnership with government institutions to both help the homeless population as well as reduce the homeless population. Libraries have both a need and the means to help the homeless, and shelters are usually run by city and county governments, so I figured there must be some interesting collaboration between the two, right?

…and there is some interesting collaboration, for example:

The San Francisco Public Library works with the city’s Department of Public Health (and the San Francisco Full-Integrated Recovery Services Team) to offer a verity of services to its homeless patrons. They have a full time social-worker on staff (currently Leah Esguerra), paid for by the SF Department of Health. She works to make sure that the library has programs that are helpful to the homeless, and well as helping the homeless interact with the other library patrons better. Perhaps the most successful program they have is hiring formerly homeless people as “health and safety associates”. These associates help monitor the homeless patrons of the library, but also provide advice and peer counselling.




The Queens Library of New York and the Denver Public Library both work with their respective city’s Departments of Education to sponsor outreach programs to various homeless. The idea being that, no matter how good a library’s services are, they’re not helping people unless the people know about them. The QL sends their teen librarian to shelters and other “precarious housing” environments to talk to teens and parents about the services they offer, such as computer access, educational assistance, and vocational help. The DPL sends staff to talk to a local shelter for homeless and low-income women, again talk about library services but also to help them become acquainted with technology. At the end of the talk they distribute bus tokens so the women can more conveniently get to the library.

…but there seems to be even more collaboration between libraries and non-government groups to help the homeless, such as:

A fairly recent project (dedication ceremony was this September) is the Jean Rice Homeless Liberation Referance Library in the Bronx, New York. It’s a modest library organized by Picture the Homeless, staffed by volunteers and containing mostly donated books. Its goals are not to provide charity, but to give homeless people the tools to help themselves.


The H.O.M.E. Page Café operates out of the Free Library of Philidelpha. It looks like a fairly traditional library café, but it makes it a point to hire former homeless people, and to provide them a living wage and the help they need to transition back into more mainstream society.



Several libraries have had luck starting book clubs for the homeless, such as the Traverse Area District Library and the Cleveland Public Library. The TADL partnered with Safe Harbor (a faith based shelter organization) while the CPL partnered with the Care Alliance Health Center to contact the homeless. Both of these programs have since ended, but libraries at both libraries found the experience useful to get to know their respective homeless populations better.

For further information, the American Library Association has some excellent resources on the subject:


Stephen M. Lilienthal wrote a pretty good article for The Library Journal as well:



1 Comment

Filed under Government

One response to “Homelessness Away From Home

  1. This is a truly inspiring entry. I am having a hard time imagining something I look forward to being a part of more. It is interesting that the San Francisco Library has a social worker on staff, funding by their local health department. Moreover, the peer mentoring system seems to be a wonderful way for the library to assist in bettering their community, not only through providing access, but through providing avenues for people to connect with each other.
    The H.O.M.E Page Café operated out of the Free Library of Philadelphia is another promising program. Homeless people are often caught in the cycle of poverty because they lose opportunities and then are denied opportunities because of their state and the cycle continues. For a library to provide a literal way out of homelessness is invaluable. No amount of pep talks or access to computer terminals can amount to the opportunity of a job, and that a library can provide this is instrumental in bettering their community.
    I also found it quite interesting that the Queens Library sends their teen librarian to various shelters. This level of outreach seems important in communicating with a group of people that is often marginalized. I am also curious as to the level of training or preparation the librarian must partake in before being sent out on a pseudo-social worker mission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s