Published : Wednesday, November 1, 2017 | 6:51 PM
For years, it’s been difficult to visit Pasadena’s public libraries without noticing the homeless.
Like many public libraries across the country, Pasadena’s have increasingly become havens for the homeless who take daily refuge amidst the quiet, air-conditioned book stacks and at the reading tables.
Now, Pasadena’s public libraries have partnered with the Pasadena Public Health Department and the Department of Housing and Career Services in collaboration with the Union Station Coordinated Entry System program to assist homeless individuals who frequent the City’s libraries for temporary shelter.
Through a program called the Library Care Navigator Project, the Public Health Department has assigned one care navigator at the Hill Avenue Branch Library, and is looking to assign another at the Pasadena Central Library at Walnut Street, to focus on assisting the homeless.
The position is library-funded, says Angelica Palmeros, Manager of the Social and Mental Health Services Division at the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD).
The project grew out of a need to provide more meaningful assistance to homeless people who visit the libraries to take advantage of the safe space, use the rest rooms and the free internet service.
A little over a year ago, Pasadena joined what a handful of other public libraries in California have started – place a dedicated case worker in the libraries to help the homeless and connect them to housing, rather than simply hanging out day after day, and year after year.
To date, the project has produced roughly ten cases of homeless individuals receiving services – currently some of the homeless people are being provided housing and employment – and the three City departments are still working on several others.
“One of the things that we researched was that some cities in California are using social workers or case managers in the library,” Palmeros said. “So we decided to do something similar and roll it out, adapt it to our city of Pasadena. It’s been pretty good, and there’s about nine to ten cases that are engaged.
Palmeros said that sometimes the process takes a long time, between four to six months, because there’s a process for housing facilities, which they’re partnering with Union Station (Homeless Services) who are helping to find housing that best fits the client’s needs.
Among the success stories, as Palmeros relates, is a 25-year-old male who has been homeless for about three years after he was illegally evicted from his transitional apartment. The man has had a long history of unstable housing from a very young age due to being in the foster care system.
Palmeros said the man used to hang out at one of the City’s libraries, where the Library Care Navigator engaged him a few weeks ago.
“On Friday, October 20, he was placed in permanent housing, and on October 25, he was hired by the Vallarta Market to work at the Fair Oaks Store,” Palmeros said. “He will start his training this Friday, so he is ready for the opening. We hope to continue some basic follow-up to ensure he remains housed and employed.”
Another 32-year-old man who became homeless about three years ago after losing his social security disability insurance was engaged by the caseworker recently, asking that he be assisted in the process of getting housing assistance because he said he’s had some negative experiences trying to get help.
“Needless to say, he accepted the assistance and is being housed today,” Palmeros said. “He is extremely happy to have a place of his own, and will work on looking for employment.”
The Library Care Navigator Project has been up and going for about three to four months, Palmeros said, but it already speaks volumes to the process of building trust and engagement with the homeless population.
Project staff are currently observing the youth population, especially among Transitional Age Youth (TAY), and currently have about three such clients receiving services, Palmeros said. Each case gets intensive case management services as the staff continues to collaborate with Union Station Homeless Services.
The project has also engaged a number of social work interns now working with the homeless through the Jackie Robinson Community Center and the Villa-Park Community Center.
Among the challenges the project faces is the lack of available rental units or permanent housing in Pasadena, which makes the process a little longer than expected. But Palmeros believes that with the care navigator actively working with the homeless, their clients have been patient and tend to stick around and wait for the process to be completed.
“The other challenge I would say, which is part of the system, is that there’s a lot more demand than supply, so there’s a lot of clients that we could be reaching throughout the libraries,” Palmeros said. “In many of the libraries, there’s at least three to four homeless individuals that are consistent, and so not having the resources can be a challenge.”