NEWARK, NJ — The Newark Public Library is increasing its presence as a mainstay for facilitating outreach and providing linkage to services for the city’s homeless as Newark moves to reduce its homeless population in 2020 and beyond.
More than 25 homelessness services providers lined Centennial Hall on Friday, marking Newark Public Library’s third installment of its Shaping Lives resource fair.
Bridges Outreach, which was awarded a $150,000 contract from the city this week, co-sponsored the event along with the city, Audible and the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center.
While public libraries have long served as a support for people experiencing homelessness, the Newark Public Library has made a concerted effort in recent years to improve and innovate its role as a cornerstone for the city’s homeless. Recognizing a growing need, the Newark Public Library became one of two libraries in the state with a full-time social worker this year and continues to increase collaborations with outside entities to offer more resources.
“Through our social worker, we try to update all our directory information so that we know who might have sneakers to give out, what time a [shelter] stop accepting new clients,” said Leslie Kahn, head of the library's reference services and an organizer for the resource fair. “Everyone has a responsibility to their neighbors.”
Outsider Artz, the library’s weekly art workshop, is one of the first library programs designed specifically for people experiencing homelessness, according to branch manager Susan Lazzari. Jessica Campbell, the library’s full-time social worker, said the program has already helped create permanent solutions for the homeless patrons she serves.
“Libraries are one of the last safe havens for people experiencing homelessness,” Lazzari added. “As librarians, that's what we do. There are many informational needs for the homeless — computer skills, literacy, job information. It's very holistic for us.”
In cooperation with the state, the library also has plans to contribute to homelessness prevention through the Fresh Start program, which provides counseling and education to individuals exiting the prison system.
The engagement and outreach contract awarded to Bridges will support the city’s strategic relocation project, which will transfer homeless individuals from Penn Station and local parks to designated areas in the community where they can receive services. Mark Wade, director of the Department of Health and Community Wellness, emphasized on Tuesday the city’s commitment to executing the relocation in a way that keeps individuals’ rights, comfort and personal safety intact.
“What I see in the city's approach is authentic care for all of their citizens, housed and unhoused,” said Richard Uniacke, executive director of Bridges. “The city's willingness to invest in shelter, outreach and engagement and in a systems change approach is, in my view, a path toward real progress.”
Institutions like houses of worship and the Newark Public Library’s various branches provide a crucial advantage as Bridges prepares to carry out the city’s outreach and engagement initiative, according to Uniacke.
“Outreach efforts connect well with libraries because the hardest part of engaging clients in services is being able to find them,” he said. “When there are safe places where people are allowed to be, it facilitates outreach providers to easily be able to find people and develop the needed relationship with them so that appropriate follow up can happen.”
In creating centralized service areas, the relocation approach will have the added benefit of improving data collection on the status of Newark’s homeless population. Creating a hub where homeless visitors can be connected with resources has a positive outcome for both service providers and those who need them.
Lazzari added that in a resource-rich city like Newark, she sees libraries not just as providers of information and knowledge for its patrons, but centers for personal wellness and advocacy.
“When you think of libraries in that context, we're helping people not just to learn, but to be well,” Lazzari said.