- San Diego launched a two-year pilot at its Central Library branch last week, providing social work services for patrons who are experiencing homelessness and grappling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
- The city hired a graduate student from San Diego State University’s School of Social Work as the first such worker fully dedicated to providing such services and interventions to the branch’s many patrons who are experiencing homelessness, said Misty Jones, director for the San Diego Public Library.
- “Previously, any time we had a behavioral issue that resulted [from] substance abuse or mental health issues, the only recourse was to have someone leave the building. And that just pushes [the problem] down the road,” said Jones. “We really want to be more of the solution.”
San Diego is the latest city to hire a social worker at its public library to assist patrons who are homeless and experiencing behavioral health issues. San Francisco was the first city known to do so, over a decade ago, but dozens of other cities have since followed as homelessness rates in much of the country have surged.
The social worker position could play an important role in San Diego, which has the fourth-largest population of unhoused individuals in the U.S., according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last month. The study by San Diego State researchers looked at the role of social workers at that specific library branch. Jones said the study helped prompt officials to launch the pilot. Libraries have increasingly been recognized as public spaces that could potentially assist such patrons that have lost their jobs or facing housing instability, she said.
Library staff members are trained to connect people with resources and information, but they are not trained to provide social work services or to address mental health or drug-induced crises that occur on library premises, though they have often been pulled into doing so, said Jones.
The library had previously had a contract with outside social work service providers, but it shared those workers with other organizations throughout San Diego County, and they often were pulled elsewhere, said Jones.
The intern, who started the new role on Tuesday, will provide casework for people experiencing homelessness, help train staff and pull together resource guides for services, the city stated in an email. The position is funded through the city’s Employ and Empower program.
Jones said the intern could also help develop programs with local housing agencies that provide services such as telehealth to people facing eviction. “I feel like this is the beginning of what this program could be,” she said.