It’s easy to walk past a public library without giving it a second look. After all, we live in an era where millions of books and newspapers and overwhelming amounts of data are one click away. However, behind those doors there are librarians, patrons and even social workers making their community a better place. In particular, libraries are finding innovative solutions to the challenges faced by homeless individuals.
We live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to rise up out of poverty. Some cities have attempted to pass legislation that would make being homeless illegal. Offering free community meals is a crime in some places. Homeless shelters are closed during the day. The climate control, restrooms and comfortable seating of libraries is appealing to people who have nowhere else to go. Libraries offer Internet connectivity through computers preloaded with software and bookmarked websites to assist in job, housing or health-related searches. Power outlets allow people the chance to charge their phone, a necessity in modern job searches.
Librarians are eager to help the increasing number of homeless individuals who rely on them.
Across the country, libraries are adding new programs to deal with issues faced by homeless patrons. In Greensboro, North Carolina, public libraries now offer haircuts, meals, and blood pressure tests. Philadelphia’s central library built a café that provides jobs to homeless patrons. Across the country, librarians and social workers cooperate to make a difference in people’s lives.
One particular local hero is Liz Coleman, an assistant librarian in Nashville. Coleman, like many of her peers, chose her career path out of a desire to improve the world. She always takes time get to know the library’s homeless patrons and aid them with basic computer skills. Coleman is at the forefront of a program that invites social workers to the Nashville library once a week. They work side by side, answering questions about homeless shelters and food stamp applications. Mental health professionals also visit every week and provide counseling services.
Coleman believes libraries are warm and inviting in a way that other government buildings are not.
They can help homeless people with respect and compassion, even individuals who might be stressed or intimidated by other, more bureaucratic facilities. Next time you’re tempted to think of the public library as an outdated relic, go inside. While you check out a book or read the news, appreciate the other ways libraries are evolving to help all of their patrons.Whizzco