Libraries serving people without permanent homes

Washington, DC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library offers music appreciation and arts classes for homeless patrons

Jacksonville Public Library teaches Internet use to homeless job seekers

San Franciso Public Library staff refer homeless people to housing and mental health service agencies

The Free Library of Philadelphia employs homeless people at their Central Library

The Los Angeles Public Library hosts a summer camp for homeless children

New York Public Library has monthly story time sessions for homeless children

The “crime” of feeding hungry people

Feeding Intolerance: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness , a recent report from The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, reveals how local governments across the nation are prohibiting and restricting groups from sharing and distributing food to hungry and homeless people.

It is believed that common myths about homeless people fuels such food-sharing restrictions, namely:

Myth #1 Ease of access to food stamps
Reality- Over half of the homeless population receive food stamps because of lack of transportation, lack of shelter, lack of knowledge and proper documentation.

Myth #2 Food pantries and soup kitchens provide adequate amounts of food for hungry and homeless people
Reality- Many food pantries lack kitchen facilities and cannot cook food for people to eat. Many food pantries restrict the amount of food they give to people. There are not enough food pantries and soup kitchens to feed everyone who is hungry.

*Myth #3 Food programs enable homelessness
Reality- Food is not an addiction! People remain homeless due to lack of affordable housing, lack of transportation and lack of health care.

Ten Things You Can Work on to Better Serve Low Income People in Your Library

  1. Treat all library users fairly, regardless of economic status.
  2. Read and implement the American Library Association’s Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor.
  3. Learn about and establish contacts with local community groups and support agencies that provide services to and advocate for low income people.
  4. Keep an updated list of temporary housing, educational and health facilities, family services, legal assistance and food pantries at all your reference desks.
  5. Subscribe to and read your local street papers. Go here to find the one for your area.
  6. Check out the Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force’s blog and ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services’ web site for the latest in news, links, and ideas.
  7. Develop a sensitivity training to help staff understand and better assist low income users. (Toronto Public did it!)
  8. Take another look at your library card registration policy to see that it does not exclude people living in temporary housing.
  9. Bring library programs to a temporary housing facility. Storytimes, book discussions, and poetry readings are always popular outreach activities.
  10. Make an effort to research other libraries’ innovative programs and policies that serve the information and literacy needs of low income people. Also, don’t forget to publicize and share your own.