News / Arts & Entertainment

    Homeless Take Refuge Among the Bookshelves

    Library social worker reaches out to patrons without a job or a place to live

    Leah Esguerra (right) is a full-time social worker assigned to work with the homeless who frequent the San Francisco Public Library.
    Leah Esguerra (right) is a full-time social worker assigned to work with the homeless who frequent the San Francisco Public Library.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Rhonda Miller

    The San Francisco Public Library is a modern seven-story building on a busy street in the center of the city.

    It serves thousands of patrons every day, including Bruce Sokol, an out-of-work carpenter who is staying in a homeless shelter and appreciates the services offered at the library.

    "I use it as my home base," says Sokol. "I use the café downstairs and I read a lot."

    Most people go to public libraries in the United States to borrow a book free of charge. However, over time, libraries have added other free services like homework help, computers with internet access and community rooms patrons can use for meetings.

    Many jobless and homeless people find sanctuary at the San Francisco Public Library.
    Many jobless and homeless people find sanctuary at the San Francisco Public Library.

    More than checking out books

    The San Francisco Public Library is now offering another new service specifically aimed at people like Sokol: a full-time social worker for the homeless. Sokol is one of the many jobless and homeless who find sanctuary in the library.

    "This is a public space. This is where people have a right to come in, have a right to enjoy the resources here," says Raj Parekh, a psychiatrist with the San Francisco Public Health Department, and director of the city's Homeless Outreach Team.

    Parekh says extending the right to use the library may come with complications. "We saw a need at the library where a lot of homeless folks, a lot mentally ill folks do come into the library, to use the library, very appropriately. But some of them also come into the library for reasons the library is not designed for."

    That includes napping in quiet corners, using drugs, causing disturbances, and shaving, doing laundry or washing more than their hands in the bathroom sinks.

    So library and health department officials teamed up and assigned a social worker to work with the homeless inside the library.

    Parekh says the first step is to redirect homeless people to shelters and showers, "…while at the same time assisting them to hopefully get out of the homelessness. Hopefully, if they have mental illness, to get treatment through the clinics we have at the Department of Public Health."

    Social worker Leah Esguerra has met with 250 people in just over a year. Thirty-five found temporary housing and 15 found a permanent place to live.
    Social worker Leah Esguerra has met with 250 people in just over a year. Thirty-five found temporary housing and 15 found a permanent place to live.

    Homeless outreach

    That's where social worker Leah Esguerra comes in. She's worked with the homeless in a mental health clinic. Now her territory is the library.

    "My goal is to be able to link the patrons who are homeless and chronic substance abusers, mentally ill, to the appropriate services," says Esguerra.

    She was assigned to the library job early last year and purposely takes a low-key approach.

    "People come here to study. So when they're in their space, they have their books open in front of them I feel like it's an intrusion of their space for me to be able to talk them, even introduce that I am a social worker, even second-guessing, 'Are they homeless? Would they be offended?'"

    That's an important consideration, according to Karen Strauss, the assistant chief librarian of the main branch. She says the project emphasizes that library users are not labeled.

    "The library was interested in making this a welcoming safe secure inviting place for all users, and anyone is welcome and everyone is welcome, the more the better," says Strauss.

    A hand up

    As part of the project, four previously homeless people were hired to work part time to monitor the library and the restrooms.

    Melvin Morris used to be homeless. Now he works at the library and has a place to live.
    Melvin Morris used to be homeless. Now he works at the library and has a place to live.

    One of them is Melvin Morris, who found housing and job training through the Homeless Outreach Team. He is comfortable with another important part of his job - being a contact point for the homeless.

    Morris says first you get to know them, then ask privately if they want help. "Cause the only thing they want is respect," says Morris. "You have to respect their boundaries."

    Standing in the library atrium, with his clipboard and security phone, Morris radiates pride in his job and the lifestyle it's brought him.
    "So now I have my own place and I pay my own rent. I like it a lot. This is the first time in my life I ever had my own place."

    Changing lives

    The numbers suggest the program is changing lives.

    In just over a year, 250 people talked with Leah Esguerra. Thirty-five found temporary housing and 15 found a permanent place to live. Two people got jobs.

    And Esquerra says she expects those numbers to go up, as word of the program spreads.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

     

     

     

     

    Blogs

    African Music Treasures