From Nuisances to Neighbors
Inclusion of Patrons Experiencing Homelessness Through Library and Social Work Partnerships
Keywords:Criminalization, homelessness, libraries, needs assessment, problem patron
Public libraries have found themselves, often reluctantly, on the frontline of homelessness. By virtue of being temperature-controlled public spaces with free internet access, libraries provide daytime shelter for thousands of patrons experiencing homelessness. Sometimes considered “problem patrons,” persons experiencing homelessness are at times unfairly targeted by library policies. Violations create the potential for police involvement and arrest, and may contribute to the criminalization of homelessness. Simultaneously, a trend is beginning to emerge of libraries providing or co-locating social services for persons experiencing homelessness. As library services expand, schools of social work have the opportunity to lend both their research and practice expertise. Specifically, schools of social work have the opportunity to partner with public libraries to conduct localized needs assessments of persons experiencing homelessness. Needs assessments should include the direct surveying of patrons, including those experiencing homelessness, to make sure resulting recommendations for library programs and services will be inclusive of all patrons.
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