Your library reaches out to neighbors experiencing homelessness.
Imagine the challenges you might face each day without a place to call home. Barriers to employment, hygiene, safety, nutrition, and more.
Now, imagine the comfort of getting lost in a story…gaining skills from an excellent how-to… healing with a self-help workbook….
“If you're living in a shelter and not sure if you've got a bed for the night, getting to the library isn't always very high on your list of priorities,” says Zee Warholm-Wohlenhaus, Adult Services Librarian. That's why the library is brought straight to homeless shelters in your community.
New books are shelved and rotated at 19 shelters. Library staff visit weekly or monthly – gifting books and providing library cards. In 2023, Hennepin County Library launched shelter book clubs – stocking extra titles and preparing discussion guides.
“We've been able to prioritize purchasing popular books, diverse titles, things that are harder to find in the library. The residents can see that investment,” shares Zee. The team takes great care choosing materials written by BIPOC authors, and in multiple languages. Perhaps most importantly, librarians listen carefully to what residents have to say about reading, favorite authors, and information that they'd like to have – taking notes for their next visit. “We always talk about meeting folks where they are, but really doing it is pretty life changing,” shared Zee.
“We always talk about meeting folks where they are, but really doing it is pretty life changing.”
~ Zee Warholm-Wohlenhaus
Providing Space for Unheard Voices
Your library works to deepen its understanding of our community, searching for the best ways to meet the needs of patrons experiencing homelessness. Since 2017, the staff of Minneapolis Central Library (MCL) has benefited from the guidance of an advisory council of library users with firsthand experience with homelessness.
Seated around a table at monthly meetings, the council shares a meal together (provided by library friends like you!), discusses their experiences and brainstorms ideas for new library programs and opportunities. Not only do these ideas shape library services, but staff hear about great outcomes for council members, too! “It’s a semiprofessional setting where their time is valued. It builds skills that can impact other areas of their lives such as finding stable housing,” shares Jesse Sawyer, Community Engagement Coordinator.
“The relative cost-benefit analysis of providing a cup of coffee and gaining a relationship with a person is amazing.”
The Power of a Warm Cup of Coffee
Coffee, anyone? On the calendar at a handful of libraries is Coffee and Conversations: a way to say hello and enjoy coffee together.
The program launched in 2014 at MCL. There were unhoused regulars using computers, resting, and reading every day, yet the library staff didn’t know many of their names. To make a difference, connecting felt like a good place to start.
“If you provide a space and an activity, the rest will follow,” says Jesse Sawyer, who oversees the program. Activities such as art projects, visiting speakers, and writing exercises are a part of every session over a warm drink. A favorite project was designing postcards that patrons could use to reach out to someone in their lives.
“The relative cost-benefit analysis of providing a cup of coffee and gaining a relationship with a person is amazing,” Jesse shared.
Regardless of your housing situation, you are invited to join and be community at these cozy gatherings – check hclib.org for more information.
Handbook of the Street is an invaluable resource to those experiencing homelessness.
A Good Hair Day
Haircuts are something we may take for granted, but when a MCL security officer pointed out how big of a need they were to some patrons, the library found a way to step in.
Last summer, “Line Up at The Library” was held at MCL. Fittingly, a line curved through the lobby and out the door, filled with patrons eager to look their best. A half-dozen hairdressers tag-teamed the effort to provide 50 haircuts to people experiencing homelessness, staying late to ensure no one was turned away.
Katie Stellar, the lead hairdresser at the event, shared, “I can't change the world. I can't fix all the problems, but I can cut people's hair and show that I care.”
Centered in each of these library services is an effort to make people feel seen and heard. “I wish people knew how isolating and stigmatizing it can be to be unhoused, and that human connection and kindness can be such an antidote,” says Zee. Thanks to your support, your library spreads kindness and makes all neighbors feel welcome, every day.
I wish people knew how isolating and stigmatizing it can be to be unhoused, and that human connection and kindness can be such an antidote.