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Public Library Director Toolkit

Libraries Serving Homeless Individuals

Libraries are community and cultural centers where individuals gather to explore, interact, learn, and read. Public libraries can also be sanctuaries for the homeless. Libraries are a safe place for them to use the computers, read, attend programs, learn, utilize library services, etc. Libraries have a responsibility to serve the homeless that come through their doors and treat them like any other patron.

Many libraries are making strides to better serve the homeless. Some public libraries now have social workers in their buildings who are there to help the homeless; some libraries have even moved to be open 24 hours a day; and other libraries are adjusting their collection development, programming, and training.

According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Services and Responsibilities of Libraries, ALA “promotes equal access to information for all persons and recognizes the need to respond to people experiencing poverty, which include people experiencing homelessness, in the United States. Therefore, it is crucial that libraries recognize their role in supporting these communities, so they may participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies.”

The Federal definition of a chronically homeless person was updated in 2015 and can be found in the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing: Defining ‘‘Chronically Homeless’’ Final Rule. It includes this provision, An individual..."Has been homeless and living or residing in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter continuously for at least 1 year or on at least four separate occasions in the last 3 years, where the cumulative total of the four occasions is at least one year."


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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.