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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”