Navigating Social Services with Patrons (More on Libraries and the Homeless)

I’m trying to work out some of my thoughts about library services for homeless people.  I talked a little bit about them here and here. Below are some more ramblings and mutterings.

I recently listened to this archived Infopeople webinar, WHAT DO I DO NOW? Handling Challenging Situations with Mentally Ill and Homeless Library Users, Part I (the audio issues do get solved eventually, hang in there).  The presenters are two people from the San Francisco Public Library, the acting Chief of Main, and the social worker who works full time in the library.  I’m very impressed both by the program, and by the strategies presented in this webinar.  The social worker, Leah Esguerra, not only directly helps homeless patrons, but helps train library workers so they can both better help homeless patrons and better cope with the “difficult-ness” of homeless patrons.

One of the biggest frustrations, in helping homeless patrons, is that they need services and can’t, for whatever reason, get them.  The social services system is complicated enough that it is difficult to find the right place to send someone who is looking for housing assistance, for example.  Then once you find the right agency, you have to take into account the patron’s abilities and resources.  Do they have a phone? Computer skills? Transportation, or money for transportation?  Can they remember what you tell them?  Will they be able to navigate the bureaucracy?  Will they have the capability, patience or attention span necessary to see their inquiry through to the end?

I can see how having someone in the library who understands this system, and can help patrons navigate it, would be invaluable.


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