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Unfortunately, homelessness is a reality around the world, mainly in major cities. In general, these individuals are easily condemned by the society who believes they choose to be homeless and are seen as problematic people who don´t make efforts to leave the situation they are in.
There are a lot of economics and social reasons why people become homeless:
- Not enough money to pay for a house;
- Released from jail;
- To escape violent relationships;
- Mental and physical health problems.
According to the Art From the Streets website, there are four types of homelessness:
Chronic Homelessness: which means being homeless for longer than a year, for several reasons as, for example, struggling with a disabling condition such as mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability;
Episodic Homelessness: people who experienced three episodes of homelessness within a year and this type of homelessness is most common withing younger people;
Transitional Homelessness: this happens when the person is going through major changes in life, for example, the loss of a job;
Hidden Homelessness: the majority of these cases are not reported, because they rely on friends and family for a place to live, and normally, they don´t access homeless support resources.
There are a few places where homeless people can feel safe and welcome and one of them is the public library.
Public Libraries for Homeless People
Public libraries are places for everyone, regardless their background, and this is the main reason why they are visited every day by many homeless people who are looking to have access to reliable information resources, technology or just a safe place to spend their day and escape from their everyday reality.
Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the society looks at homeless people as a problem and several public libraries in the US have taken some actions in regards to those who use the library during the night as a shelter. According to The Guardian, some libraries turned the outside a “harder place to spend time”, to prevent sitting they added railing on the walls, to prevent campsites they choose “undulating rock formations” and “benches with armrests to prevent people from lying down”.
Those decisions are made due to the fact that residents associate problems in the streets near their communities’ libraries with homeless people and, even though, the staff wants to prevent overnight around their buildings, they are totally open to receive and help those individuals during their working hours. As librarians are seen as professionals who serve their communities regardless of their background, they put up signs with valuable information to help homeless people find an alternative solution to spend the night.
A public library has to be ready to meet their patrons needs and in a digital world, they become essential places for homeless individuals who don´t have the opportunity to have access to online and relevant information.
Libraries around the world, play an important role as partners or supporters of other social organizations by having programs that are interesting and helpful to homeless people for example: programs on health, rental assistance or mortgage and government benefits. The partnerships developed to help these people are also important, because they will give the opportunity to these individuals to find a shelter, food or even a place to shower and can also help them find a job. Partnerships with clinics and hospitals are also common, it gives them the opportunity to have access to medical care. It is very important that there is someone who is responsible to update this kind of information regularly.
Many libraries choose to have a social worker who is able to provide constant support and training to the staff helping them deal with hard situations regarding homeless people, who sometimes just need someone to hear and guide them to the right way. This education provided to the library staff will help them develop a sense of compassion and welcoming to all the patrons and the social worker can also provide the right and most updated information and connect the patrons to the correct service.
Public libraries are safe places for everyone, where people have access to most services for free and can stay there for hours. This aspect is particularly important to homeless people who sometimes need to escape their reality and find someone to help them or to just have a conversation, to combat isolation or guide them to have a better life and librarians are the right people to do it.
These public spaces always look at ways to help their patrons, regardless their backgrounds, by offering the right services like programs, partnerships with important social organizations and they also raise awareness to this society “problem” by creating an environment of compassion and understanding.
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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