Library Event Returns to Support Unhoused Individuals

Wyoming libraries are helping to support the unhoused patrons within their communities.

In communities across the US, libraries have become more than repositories for books.

They’re vibrant hubs for learning, empowerment, and community engagement. However, one often overlooked aspect of a library’s role is the significant impact these facilities have on the unhoused community. Libraries serve as safe havens, ones that offer a wide array of resources and services that can be critical for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

Wyoming libraries host several events aimed at providing assistance to the unhoused community, so let’s take a look at some of the offerings held with the help of the state’s libraries and the people who keep them operational.

Teton County Library’s “Love Your Neighbor” Donation Drive

On August 22nd, the Teton County Library organized a clothing and supplies drive that was designed to benefit the unhoused community of Wyoming. The drive became possible thanks to the library itself, the Spread the Love Commission, and the Teton County Taskforce for the Unhoused. 

In participation with the Love Your Neighbor donation drive, Wyoming community members were invited to drop off supplies from a designated list in the library’s parking lot. Such items included gently-used adult-sized clothing and shoes, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, rolling suitcases, phone chargers, toothbrushes, toiletries, camp towels, and tuna cans.

Gift cards to local establishments like Subway and McDonald’s were also welcome.

All of the items collected were then given to individuals in need in the Jackson area as well as throughout the Mountain West area.

In addition, the event’s hosts also provided information about housing opportunities, rent and food assistance programs, mental health resources, and a plethora of supplemental information that could be of use to those in need.

Riverton Library’s System of Support

In addition to hosting specific events, Wyoming libraries provide aid to the unhoused community in a number of different ways throughout the year. 

Take Riverton Library, for example, which is one of many libraries that present those in need with access to information as well as a simple place to rest indoors. 

Riverton’s homeless shelter closed in 2021, and as a result, the library’s staff knew that it would need to add services and make itself a more accessible facility for the unhoused. 

Tannar Miller, Riverton Branch Library’s assistant, listed several ways in which the library has extended its services in an effort to assist people facing homelessness.

One key way libraries assist unhoused individuals is through the provision of physical services like shelter, access to restrooms, internet access, phone access, and even wall charging units, which, according to Miller, are things that are very easy to take for granted.

Miller also explains that when the weather is freezing, unhoused individuals can find it challenging to simply catch their breath. The library provides everyone who enters a place to sit, breathe, get their bearings, and warm up before they need to take the next steps, whatever they may be.

He states that the library is one of the only places in town where people can simply exist without having to spend money.

Additional Services

On top of providing library patrons with access to shelter from inclement weather, libraries help the unhoused with basic human needs. Libraries offer clean and safe restrooms, allowing individuals to maintain their dignity and hygiene. Wyoming libraries also offer unhoused individuals an array of resources and pieces of information they can use to pursue goals.

Employment Assistance

Librarians are incredibly knowledgeable and as a result, they can help get unhoused people in touch with the information and programs they need. In order to apply for a job, most companies are turning to technology to help their HR teams find good employees. This means that in order to even apply for a job, it is necessary to have an email address and access to a computer. 

Librarians are willing and able to assist their patrons with setting up a free email account, finding jobs to apply for, and even filling out online applications. This kind of personal contact can not only help unhoused individuals find employment, but also creates a feeling of acceptance and belonging to the community.

Community Assistance Programs

In addition to employment assistance, librarians are able to help find local assistance programs. These programs are designed to help the unhoused, and yet are frequently inaccessible due to requiring internet access and an email address. Many unhoused individuals may not even know what programs they are eligible for, and librarians are willing, able, and even eager to assist their patrons. They can offer directions, look up phone numbers, and have an array of additional services that are aimed to help unhoused community members have the support they need.

Wyoming libraries are focused on serving their community to the best of their ability. The Laramie county library system, for example, has eliminated overdue fines and fees for their patrons. Their goal is to increase accessibility for everyone in the community and remove any barriers to access the library.

A Sense of Community

Finally, libraries offer a sense of community and assist the unhoused with social engagement. Being unhoused can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Wyoming libraries often host community events, discussion groups, and activities, providing opportunities for social interaction. This can be a source of comfort and emotional support for those who have lost their homes and support systems.

Wyoming libraries pride themselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all. Unlike many public spaces, unhoused individuals are not stigmatized or shunned when they enter libraries. This sense of belonging and acceptance is a crucial part of rebuilding one's life.

Many libraries also offer Bookmobile services. The Bookmobile is a vital part of the community, and can bring education, entertainment, and resources directly to anyone who needs it and is unable to make it to the library in person.

Final Thoughts

The efforts of Wyoming libraries in supporting the unhoused community exemplify the profound impact these institutions have on society. They transcend their traditional roles, evolving into vital community hubs that offer solace, resources, and empowerment to those in need. By offering support, resources, and a safe haven, libraries empower unhoused individuals to reclaim their lives. Libraries provide a sense of dignity and hope, reminding everyone that they are valued members of the community.

From the "Love Your Neighbor" donation drive at Teton County Library to the comprehensive support provided by Riverton Library, these initiatives demonstrate the commitment of libraries and their dedicated staff to create inclusive spaces. By offering shelter, access to information, and a wealth of additional services, libraries in Wyoming truly strive to be a place of aid for the unhoused.