Homeless patrons present a poignant set of challenges for libraries. They frequently present a set of needs, for example, that the library is not well suited to address: serious mental illness, addiction, chronic physical health challenges... Also, the presence of obviously homeless people in the library can alienate the families and the more affluent patrons that libraries rely on for funding support.
And yet, the needs of homeless patrons also present one of the most important opportunities for a library to demonstrate compelling and high-visibility value within a local community. Consider the following:
Some people have argued that the ready availability of information on the Internet renders libraries obsolete. The very firehose of information available on the Internet, however, creates a new need for someone to curate--to help identify the best and most useful information to address local needs. Local struggles with homelessness provide a shining opportunity in this regard. Libraries can curate information on homelessness for their local communities. They can help identify the best research and the most effective and locally relevant approaches to addressing the challenges of the homeless.
One of the most important needs of nonprofit and community based organizations is physical space in which to meet and operate. Libraries have physical space. In many communities, it is even centrally located. Because libraries also have a long tradition of being among our most democratic public institutions, libraries are often perceived as being welcoming, neutral, and non-threatening places.
As Niche Academy has spoken with libraries around the country, we’ve found that the most effective approaches to addressing homeless issues are not the work of a single plenipotent entity. Rather, effective approaches combine the efforts of care providers, government agencies, charities, law enforcement, churches, and the homeless themselves. Libraries can invite and provide a context for collaboration and information sharing among all these different groups.
This staff training tutorial provides actionable guidance on some of the most effective approaches to addressing issues related to homelessness. This guidance has been gathered from the experience of libraries in a variety of locations around the country. This tutorial will give you concrete steps your library can take to curate information in locally relevant ways, use the library’s physical space in compelling new ways, and invite collaboration among community stakeholders.