In an important move for the Boston Public Library system, Mayor Marty Walsh stepped up to the plate and appointed a full-time outreach manager for the many homeless individuals who use the main library and its branches for shelter and services. The positive development both acknowledges the difficulty for library staff to manage the growing number homeless in public libraries --some of whom have mental health, behavioral and addiction problems-- with the rights of homeless to use the public library and the need to develop comprehensive strategy for services to a population that has nowhere else to go for simple needs like using restrooms or shelter from inclement weather. To that point, the BPL plans to hire a reference librarian who specializes in health and human services and make available guides to addiction recovery and housing.
Boston is following in the footsteps of other public library systems that have used a variety of strategies to both manage homelessness among their patrons and develop creative library-based programs to assist . In 2008, the San Francisco Public Library was the first to hire a social worker specifically to reach out to homeless patrons and coordinate the extensive social service system already in place near their main library of meals distribution, such as finding housing, providing medical care and assisting with other services. In Pima County, AZ, the library system hired a public health nurse in 2012; its branches are served by 16 to 20 nurses provide services either once a week or once a month. In Denver, library staff shows residents of a women's shelter how to use a computer and sign them up for a library card. In Dallas, public library staff get homeless patrons and staff members together twice a month for Coffee and Conversation. At a recent talk about HIV awareness, a member of the health community was on hand to answer questions. After the talk about 15 attendees got tested for the virus, according to a PBS News Hour article.
The BPL outreach manager, Mike Bunch, who was employed in a similar position at the Pine Street Inn, is bilingual in English and Spanish. Before he came to Boston, he worked with shelter and treatment providers in Austin, Texas. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer and will be stationed at the Copley Central Library, while assisting staff in branch libraries where needed.