In collaboration with the City of Salinas, Interim has started new outreach efforts to work with homeless people in Salinas. Last year, the City of Salinas approached Interim to help them resolve issues surrounding the high number of homeless people using the Steinbeck Library in Salinas as a refuge. The neighboring Salinas First United Methodist Church operates a day center for homeless people and people tend to go back and forth between the two locations. The City was looking for ways to encourage homeless people to find and use resources that would help them move from the streets to housing.
After research, Interim suggested looking at a model used in San Francisco and other communities, the “social worker in the library.” The neighboring First United Methodist Church, which operates a homeless services center, asked to be part of this initiative. The idea is to help library staff to make the library a welcoming and safe place for all patrons, while bringing in special services to homeless individuals in a location where they like to gather.
This new program will join a national trend. “The San Francisco program began in 2009. Today, twenty-four public libraries in the country have followed in San Francisco’s footsteps. The Dallas Public Library implemented a peer-counseling model, and the Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Arizona hired a nurse to provide medical care for the homeless population.
“These programs are humanizing homelessness throughout the library,” says Leah Esguerra, a library social worker in San Francisco. “The library becomes a sanctuary for many of the patrons and our program helps them to feel safe again.” –– Source, Citylab.com Article, Humanizing Homelessness at the Public Library
A social worker has already started working in the Steinbeck Library and the First United Methodist Church. The expansion of services was funded by an US Department of HUD Emergency Solutions Grant awarded by the City of Salinas. Will Smith, who graduates from the Masters in Social Work program from CSUMB in May, and who interned with Interim’s Shelter Cove transitional housing program for homeless persons is filling this new position. A Wellness Navigator, a peer position, will also accompany the social worker part-time. Kevin Gast, MCHOME Program Director, says having the presence of a peer to reach out to people struggling with mental illness helps tremendously. “There is nothing like having a peer who can present their lived experience of recovery because they were in their shoes. They can give them hope that change is an attainable goal.”
In addition to connecting homeless patrons to community services, including screening clients for Interim’s services, the social worker will be training library and church staff how to respond to homeless patrons who may be dealing with mental health challenges. The hope is that Interim’s presence and training of their staff and volunteers will decrease incidents where police/security intervention is needed.
Homeless services providers, City of Salinas leaders, County staff, and others gathered on April 23rd got some needed encouragement and exposure when Congressman Jimmy Panetta visited the First United Methodist Church to learn about the services the Church and Interim are providing.
The homeless crisis in California continues to worsen. The housing market recovery has only worsened a pre-existing affordability crisis. The 2017 Monterey County Homeless Census documented 2,837 homeless individuals, a 23% increase from 2015, and the largest number recorded in the past 10 years. The City of Salinas has been hit especially hard by an increase in homelessness. The City’s 2017 homeless count increased 57%. City leaders are looking to fund solutions that aim to move people off the streets and into housing and programs.
Interim’s staff are a welcome addition to the First United Methodist Church and the Steinbeck Library. Staff are looking forward to working closely with our staff and learning more. They don’t feel equipped to handle the kind of specialized case management this population is in need of, in particular those needing mental health services. Cindy Storrs of the First United Methodist Church of Salinas says, “This helps a lot because I used to be here waiting with people for social services to come. Now I can just refer them over to [Interim staff]. Having [them] frees me up to do meals, menus, and supervising volunteers.” Eric Howard, Deputy Librarian for the City of Salinas said, “We’d been looking at this model for some time. San Francisco has been the leader in this. When I worked at a library in New York City they had social workers there. We, as librarians, don’t have the expertise… this made perfect sense.” Eric says the program’s objective is to ‘break cycles’ through a model based on relationship building. The social worker can establish a relationship over time that will get ‘customers’ connected to services they need.