Mental health care in the U.S. usually gets discussed, if at all, when its in a conversation about gun control after a mass shooting. Rather than continue the pattern of not making mental health services accessible to those most in need one San Francisco library decided to offer said services to homeless people and it’s been successful. The library’s show of empathy is in direct contrast to the relationship between law enforcement and homeless people. In one instance last year LAPD fatally shot a homeless man and in another instance 14 San Francisco police officers brutalized a one-legged homeless black man.
According to The Huffington Post citing a PBS report, approximately 5,000 people visit the San Francisco Public Library each day with about 15 percent of those visitors being homeless. San Francisco’s homeless population is almost 7,000. The library chose to cater to those patrons in 2009 when it hired psychiatric social worker Leah Esguerra full time per SFGate.
Esguerra sits down with a homeless person individually and does a full clinical assessment she told PBS. From there she communicates with colleagues at the San Francisco homeless outreach team who help care for the case and find housing.
PBS reports that the library’s program so far has helped 150 homeless people find permanent home and has enrolled 800 others in social and mental health services.
Esguerra and the mental health services program have created a safe space for homeless people who were previously looked down upon at the San Francisco Library. SFGate wrote library goers complained about reportedly seeing homeless people use bathrooms for drug use and sex leaving them in poor conditions.
That has since changed. Within the program people who were previously homeless have been hired as “health and safety associates” to help with the library’s upkeep. The Huffington Post writes the associates undergo a “12-week vocational rehabilitation program” before they’re hired.
City Lab reports 24 public libraries now provide social services for homeless people. In New York City the Queens library helps people find shelter, food, and legal services. The AP reports in Pima County, Arizona nurses travel throughout the 27 libraries in the county to offer blood pressure checks.