One day, while sitting in front of a library in Houston, I began talking to a woman. She told me that she was waiting for her husband to come out of the library. As she and I talked, she shared that she and her husband had been living on the streets for the past six months. They come to the library to look for employment and to find shelter from the elements when needed. She looked to the door of the library and then said, “You know, we like coming to this library because we are treated like human beings.” Evidently, there are some places, even other library locations, where that wasn’t always the case for them. That was upsetting to hear. Everyone, regardless of where they live, should be treated humanely.
How we connect and support the homeless community says a lot about our library and who we are. Aiding the homeless community is part of being a public library system. In the past decade, more libraries have learned that the face of homelessness has changed and includes families, teens, veterans and the mentally ill. It can even be a person with a job who just isn’t getting paid quite enough to get by. This understanding and the sheer fact that homeless are going to always come to our public buildings has caused library systems to find innovative ways to help.
Some of the more robust programs I have seen include mobile showers, collaborations with food banks, food trucks and library partnerships where small library collections are housed in facilities that provide services to the homeless. Other popular services libraries provide are on staff social workers to give information and support to those in need.
Supporting the homeless is more than providing social services and temporary space, but emotional support. I can remember as a young student having medical issues that kept me from working and attending classes and how insignificant I felt. It was my volunteer time at libraries and other non-profits that gave me confidence when I needed it. Can we provide volunteer opportunities to help people who are homeless and unemployed build resumes and confidence?
Below are a few articles on innovative programming for the homeless community and different thoughts and philosophy on supporting homeless in urban communities.