Libraries start new chapter to support vulnerable

The City of Melbourne will invest in a dedicated social worker to work in its libraries, as part of an Australian-first program to provide support services to at-risk people such as those experiencing homelessness.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the full-time social worker would support vulnerable library users with complex needs.

“We’ve found that more people – including many of our City’s most vulnerable – are relying on our libraries to access information, use our free computers and wifi and just find somewhere that is safe, warm and welcoming,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“Melbourne is a caring city that is focused on our people and that’s why we are investing in providing a full-time social worker in our libraries.

“The Library Social Worker will work proactively with library visitors as well as providing additional training and support to staff to help to respond appropriately to people who may require extra assistance.

“Our libraries are for everyone and they provide important resources and services for our community.

“We also need to ensure that our libraries continue to be welcoming, inclusive and safe spaces for all of our 1.5 million library visitors each year.

“The concept came from similar programs in San Francisco and Denver in the USA that have been running successfully for several years.”

Chair of the People City portfolio, Councillor Beverley Pinder, said the Library Social Worker would work with people experiencing a range of challenges, including some of the most vulnerable in our community: people who are homeless.

“Whether sleeping rough, in a rooming house, couch surfing or in unstable accommodation – when you don’t have your own private space, you turn to places that you know are safe and comfortable,” Cr Pinder said.

“Libraries are among the last few public indoor spaces where people who are homeless or vulnerable can seek shelter, access technology and use resources that many of us take for granted.”

The Library Social Worker will work alongside the City of Melbourne’s Daily Support Team which provides outreach to people sleeping rough in the city.

The City is currently working with Launch Housing to appoint a social worker to the program until June 2020.

Launch Housing Acting Chief Executive Officer, Rebecca Naylor, said the role would help ensure people who are vulnerable or experiencing homelessness feel welcome in the city’s libraries.

“Having a Launch Housing social worker based at libraries across Melbourne will ensure that people experiencing homelessness or with complex needs have the same right to the community’s resources as everybody else,” Ms Naylor said.

“The social worker will also support library staff to understand the issues faced by disadvantaged people in our community.”

The appointment follows a successful four-month trial from February to May 2019, which saw an outreach worker support library visitors experiencing a range of challenges.

Based at the City Library, the Library Social Worker will also support staff across the City of Melbourne’s six libraries – providing training, support, and debriefing.

Chair of the Knowledge City portfolio, Councillor Jackie Watts, said the Library Social Worker would help to connect people with external services, such as housing support, mental health, or domestic violence.

“Libraries have always been a place where people come to find information and resources,” Cr Watts said.

“Knowledge empowers people to make informed decisions about their lives.

“The Library Social Worker expands this role to help vulnerable people access the information and connections they need.”

The program complements the City’s other homelessness projects such as the recently announced cohealth Street Doctor Program. The City also hosts a weekly homelessness service coordination program, which brings together 14 different homelessness and health support services to streamline services for people sleeping rough, link people to suitable support and, ultimately, aim to get people into permanent housing.

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