Santa Barbara Public Library’s Outreach Van Supports Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
Since October, the Santa Barbara Public Library has been visiting Neighborhood Navigation Centers with its Library on the Go outreach vehicle to provide services to individuals experiencing homelessness. The Neighborhood Navigation Centers, or NNCs, are organized by SB ACT and include many organizations such as Showers of Blessings, Doctors Without Walls, SB County Behavioral Wellness, and other social services agencies providing basic necessities to our houseless neighbors. NNCs held Tuesday mornings at the Carillo and Castillo Streets Commuter Lot and Thursday afternoons at Alameda Park. A new location in the Eastside Neighborhood is launching March 30, 2022, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, 535 E. Yanonali Street.
The Library on the Go van is equipped with high-powered Wi-Fi that will support many devices, a charging station, computers, and a printer. Patrons can borrow books and materials, including Chromebooks and internet hotspots, even if they do not have a permanent address by applying for a Welcome Card from the Santa Barbara Public Library. Ultimately, the helpful staff are the real draw.
“Providing services to people experiencing homelessness is all about building relationships over time, treating them with dignity, and meeting them where they’re at while offering what they need. As we get to know people and their basic needs are met, people have the chance to learn about our workforce development, adult literacy, or computer skills classes,” said Supervising Librarian Ahmad Merza, who coordinates the Library on the Go outreach van services. “It takes time to build trust, but it makes all the difference.”
On average, Library staff assist 75-100 people each month with completing paperwork to obtain copies of vital documents, apply for state assistance programs like Medi-Cal, or obtain a lifeline phone, as well as other Adult Education services like job search assistance or computer skills.
“The services offered by the Library at both their physical sites and locations served by the mobile outreach van are an asset for people living on the streets here in Santa Barbara. As a contributor to Neighborhood Navigation Centers (NNCs), the Library’s mobile service van is a natural addition to the other services provided – mental health support, case management, clothing, showers, and medical care – and makes it possible for us to assist more individuals in achieving their goals,” said Kayla Peterson, Program Manager for SB ACT.
Over the last few years, the Santa Barbara Public Library has been participating with local stakeholders, including former and current houseless individuals and the organizations that serve them, as part of the SB ACT on Homelessness Steering Committee. The collective impact model ensures communication is constant among service providers. This collaboration helps to address immediate needs, develop long-range plans, and brainstorm strategies to fill in gaps of needs without duplication of efforts.
SBPL outreach to Neighborhood Navigation Center sites is supported by a California State Library Community Connections Library Services and Technology Act grant. This funding supports staff at Libraries across the state in developing models to offer resource navigation services to community members in order to eliminate barriers that prevent people from accessing vital community resources, particularly in the areas of housing, health, nutrition, employment, and education. In addition to outreach, the Library has developed staff and volunteer training the services provided by local agencies in order to more effectively refer library patrons to needed services, and offers one-on-one consultations to community members as part of the Adult Education services.
“Libraries are about access to information and community education, whether that information is stored in a book, online, or in many cases, accessible through people who work at human service organizations. Just as the Library helps people find the book to answer their questions, we connect members of the community with the right person to help them in local social services agencies,” said Library Director Jessica Cadiente.
It isn’t just people experiencing homelessness that take advantage of the helpful staff in the Library. Individuals and families from all walks of life ask questions about community resources or navigating challenging situations.
“By strengthening relationships with partners and embedding the idea of resource navigation into all library services, we’re strengthening the capacity to provide effective social service assistance, which builds resilience and improves the health and wellbeing of our communities,” Cadiente explains.
In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the Santa Barbara City Council allocated $142,000 dollars to fund a social services support worker position embedded in the Library. The City contracted with the Family Services Agency to fill the position, but it has been challenging to recruit in the social services field locally and it remains vacant.
The Santa Barbara Public Library is a department of the City of Santa Barbara. Visit the Santa Barbara Public Library online at SBPLibrary.org for information about programs and services. All library programs are free and open to the public.