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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf 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.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Hamilton Live: Dustbowl Revivali
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
September 02, 2015 12:19 PM
Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."

Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members who performed live at "The Hamilton" songs from their new CD, "With A Lampshade On."