Grant to libraries means more help for homeless
When Jesse Baker fired up a computer at Minneapolis Central Library on a recent Wednesday, a pop-up box alerted him to services – at the library – for people who are experiencing homelessness, or who are in danger of losing their housing.
Baker, who had slept at the Salvation Army shelter since he arrived in Minneapolis a few days before, seized the opportunity to be connected to opportunities for shelter and food. In a back corner of the library, Derek Holt, emergency shelter case manager at Our Savior’s Housing, was ready to guide him.
The Hennepin County Library system soon will be able to expand its outreach services for people who want help preventing and getting out of homelessness, thanks to a $55,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation. It was only part of a $157,327 grant to promote health equity in Hennepin County, and the cities of Rochester and Duluth.
“Hennepin County Library is honored to be one of three grant recipients in the state,” said Library Director Lois Langer Thompson. “Together with our partners, and building on the fine ongoing work of our staff, we are committed to increasing our capacity to serve individuals who are homeless.”
Offering more help to more people
The library system will use the infusion of money to expand the services it already offers and to add new opportunities, said Amy Mars, health equity advocate for the library system.
Already, the library system offers space for nonprofit partners to meet one-to-one with people who are already homeless, or who are in a situation of precarious housing, to direct them to not only county resources, but to help they can get from the community. Mars would like to make the space available weekly, rather than bi-monthly. She’d like to be able to give out more bus tokens, more state ID vouchers, more copies of the “Handbook of the Streets” and other resources to help connect people to the organizations that can help them.
She hopes to expand the volunteer network and offer new opportunities for people to explore how to improve their own situations, by teaching practical skills like budgeting and cooking, but also those that encourage people to think of something different in the future.
“When you’re experiencing homelessness, you feel like your options are so limited,” she said
Increasing service also would allow advocates to reach more people, Holt said, and in some cases, help to prevent them from becoming homeless.
Library is a place to "empower yourself with information"
For his part, Baker went to the library that morning to use the computers and meet up with friends.
He left with a map to a long-term shelter, where he could stay, starting that night.
The library is a natural fit for these kinds of services, Mars said.
“We hope people see the library as a place you can go to empower yourself with information and resources,” she said. “When people don’t know where else to go, they come to the library.”
Mars hopes to expand service at the library in January. For now, people can get help 10 a.m.-noon, the first and third Wednesday of each month, in rooms 110 and 111 at Minneapolis Central Library.