The Seattle Public Libraries (SPL) offer a lifeline for people who are experiencing homelessness.
Libraries offer community spaces to get warm, rest, access the internet, use the bathroom, and read without being disturbed. SPL has also worked hard to reduce barriers to using the library, like issuing library cards to people without a permanent address and taking mobile libraries to tent cities.
Realizing that its “Daily Readers”, in the compassionate parlance of SPL, need more specialized assistance than librarians could offer, the library acted to connect its patrons with social service resources beyond its walls.
With funding from the Seattle Public Library Foundation, SPL worked with the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) to welcome a community resources specialist to the library. Hallie, the first-ever social service worker in our libraries, helps patrons find resources that meet their basic needs. Accessing affordable housing and services is very difficult when a person does not have a permanent home.
Hallie now completes housing assessments for Coordinated Entry For All, the new system through King County that assesses the needs of people experiencing homelessness and matches them to housing resources, and assists with filling out housing applications for other potential options; helps replace lost identification cards; finds storage for personal belongings and connects people with health care.
After working in family shelters since 2010, Hallie works primarily with single adults in the thirty hours she spends per week with SPL. She offers both drop-in hours and meetings by appointment at the Central Library from Tuesday – Friday and recently expanded to the Ballard Library, where she offers drop-in hours between 11:00 – 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday. You can learn more about what Hallie offers here.
In addition to spending time in these two libraries, Hallie occasionally joins the mobile services teams when they visit our managed tent cities, allowing her to connect with library patrons around the city. Among the resources that these teams offer when visiting are mobile devices known as a HotSpots that allow connection to the Internet.
Funding from Youth Voice, Youth Choice, a youth participatory budgeting project managed by the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), expanded SPL’s HotSpot program to provide additional mobile internet access to people living in encampments. These HotSpots can checked out for up to two months as part of the Library’s digital equity programs. One device can support up to 15 people and provides access to a basic utility for people experiencing homelessness.
We asked whether the HotSpots get returned to the library, and the answer was yes, at the same frequency and rate as the public at large who have addresses and homes.
We hear a lot about the progress that Seattle has yet to make on the crisis of homelessness, and I agree that the implementation of Pathways Home is critical. We have a lot more work to do.
I want to recognize that our city departments, many philanthropic organizations, human service providers, and community members are creatively and compassionately working to assist vulnerable people right now.
Thanks to City Librarian Marcellus Turner and the Seattle Public Library Foundation, Hallie is available to support the Daily Readers and the library staff who serve all of us.