Boston Public Library to offer homeless outreach program

A Pine Street Inn employee has been asked to take the lead on helping the homeless crowd that congregates in and around libraries across the city and has begun his role at the public library’s main branch in Copley.

Bunch will help homeless patrons with any issues they may have, while others hired by the city will focus more on those struggling with needs beyond housing.

“I think some of the challenges that the individuals are experiencing really are long-term problems,” said BPL President David Leonard. “But we know enough to know that there’s a range of need, and really it takes having a dedicated professional, someone like Mike and his team.”

Understanding the population and its needs will be Bunch’s major role, Leonard said, especially as a new set of homeless people are finding their way to the library and to other branches across the city, including the West End, South End, Dudley and Upham’s Corner.

“Over the course of the summer, in particular, we had noticed an uptick in the number of individuals who are basically staying on the exterior of the building, either during the day or trying to sleep out overnight,” Leonard said. “I don’t think each branch is seeing the same type of individuals, so we want to be very careful in not suggesting it’s one size fits all, but rather work out what do people need and see if we’re the right people to help them with that or refer them to somewhere else.”

 

Leonard could not speak specifically about what type of aid Bunch and his team would provide, but he did name housing, resume help, online classes and substance abuse treatment references as some of the possibilities.

A press release from the mayor’s office states that Bunch and a team “will provide assessment, crisis intervention and intensive case management services to unsheltered individuals drawn to the spaces and resources at the Boston Public Library.”

A reference librarian specializing in health and human services will also be part of the team, according to the press release.

Leonard said the main job of those hired for these positions will be to inform people in need about the resources the library has always advertised.

“Reference is part of what we do, so reference is about finding out what someone needs and helping them find out how to get that on their own. It’s just a new format of that,” Leonard said.

Barbara Trevisan, spokesperson for Pine Street Inn, said moving Bunch into the role at BPL creates “a more formal

partnership” that the shelter has always had with the library and the city.

“I think everyone’s plan is to be flexible since this is a pilot program,” she said. “Our goal at the end of the day is to get these people into a stable situation and to provide the services they may need that would allow them to move forward in their lives.”

Leonard said the decision to hire an outreach manager is similar to what other libraries have done in urban areas, such as Denver and San Francisco.

He’s hopeful that the number of incidents involving homeless patrons at the libraries will decline and that people will get the help they need in the process.

“This type of outreach is a critical part of what urban libraries and public libraries are starting to do,” he said. “This is a continually evolving situation, and we’re going to stay close to what our patrons need and what the experts serving them say about these particular challenges.”

Leonard said the main job of those hired for these positions will be to inform people in need about the resources the library has always advertised.

“Reference is part of what we do, so reference is about finding out what someone needs and helping them find out how to get that on their own. It’s just a new format of that,” Leonard said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

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