University Branch of The Seattle Public Library Develops Programs for People Experiencing Homelessness
release date: 03/08/2017
From weekly drop-in programs for young adults to outreach visits throughout the neighborhood, staff members at the University Branch of The Seattle Public Library are working to create a welcoming space for the Library's most vulnerable patrons.
The branch has developed several programs, services and resources for Seattleites experiencing homelessness in the University District, including a weekly drop-in program at the branch for young adults ages 13 to 26, every Wednesday from 4 - 5:45 p.m. The drop-in program includes snacks, job assistance, and access to representatives from Seattle Education Access, a higher education advocacy group, and Teen Feed, which provides meals and general support coordination.
Kristy Gale, teen services librarian for the branch, says these kinds of events have improved the Library experience for young patrons who are experiencing homelessness.
"We were seeing several young adults experiencing homelessness spending time in our branch each day. They were utilizing the Library to escape the elements and relax, read, access the internet, and attend occasional programs," said Gale. "However, it was evident they would benefit from a space that catered specifically to them. Our drop-in opportunities provide an inclusive and supportive space for young adults to get some of their needs met."
At the drop-in, the branch provides food for attendees, local partner organizations offer extensive support, Gale provides help with resume and cover letter creation, and Library staff talk with young adults about Library resources that can benefit them.
"These patrons have the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with service providers that are already advocating for them," said Gale. "They also form a more positive association with the Library and often tell their friends about our drop-in events and other services we provide. Many of these young adults continue to frequent the branch after they have become stably housed."
The branch also occasionally hosts special job readiness workshops. The workshops include resume-building and job search assistance provided by neighborhood social service agencies and Library staff. Free meals and haircuts are typically donated by local businesses for these special events. The next workshop, "Ace Your Job Interview," will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 15 at the University Branch, 5009 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-684-4063.
"Outreach programming that meets people where they are helps the Library develop relationships with patrons who are experiencing homelessness," said Paige Chernow, adult services librarian at the University Branch.
Chernow makes weekly visits to the Elizabeth Gregory Home, a day center for women experiencing homelessness. There, she teaches clients how to use computers and conduct effective internet searches. She also makes occasional outreach visits to Tent City 3 hosted by the University of Washington and attends monthly meetings hosted by University District Conversations on Homelessness.
"Our interest is in creating a welcoming environment for all our patrons," said Chernow. "Often our most vulnerable patrons don't know that it's fine for them to ask us for assistance. Taking the time to go where they are really helps build trust. Now, I see some of these patrons light up and say, 'Oh, I know you!' when they recognize me from outreach visits."
Chernow has also developed a number of handouts that list neighborhood resources of interest to people experiencing homelessness, including information about free meals, showers, laundry facilities and places they can use a phone.
"The nice thing about paper handouts is they provide a 'passive' way of providing important information," said Chernow. "Patrons can feel embarrassed about their housing status and uncomfortable explaining the resources and information they need from us. This gives us a way of providing information about basic services without putting them in the position of having to ask."
Gale also participates in regular outreach visits, including dropping in on Teen Feed meals once a month; walking around the neighborhood to hand out books, event invitations, coffee, snacks and more with Teen Feed; bringing resources to drop-in events at the Sanctuary Art Center; and hosting a monthly teen book club at the Interagency Academy High School thanks to a grant from the American Library Association's Great Stories Club.
During outreach visits, Library staff frequently bring Library resources for on-site borrowing including Wi-Fi Hotspots to connect to mobile high-speed internet, a wide array of paperback books, and neighborhood resource lists to help connect patrons to University District resources. Due to transportation and mobility challenges, many patrons who are experiencing homelessness prefer to use neighborhood services rather than downtown services, Chernow explained.
These outreach efforts are part of a larger system-wide Library effort to incorporate more regular and meaningful listening sessions with underrepresented communities. In 2016, Library staff held listening sessions with Seattleites experiencing homelessness at 25 locations city-wide, including shelters, tent cities and other social service locations.