Bright Idea: Libraries Offer a Variety of Resources to Homeless Youth

Photograph of three young men sitting in a library.

Libraries may be the most useful, yet least-used, one-stop support for homeless youth and families. They’re free, open to the public, open every day and contain countless resources beyond books, including computers, job training, professional classes and space for community meetings and clubs. The accessibility and variety of library programs make libraries worthy venues for all kinds of youth-centered programming. By partnering with local libraries, youth shelters can greatly expand the variety of services they offer while simultaneously connecting young people to an essential community resource.

Library Resources from A to Z

One Ohio partnership illustrates the point perfectly. Project RISE, a supplemental education program for homeless youth run jointly by Akron Public Schools and area shelters, has enjoyed a collaboration with its local libraries for over a decade, says Deborah Manteghi, who manages Project RISE and is also Akron’s district homeless education liaison.

Robin Vittek, assistant youth service coordinator for Akron Public Libraries, says that libraries are always looking to improve their services to the community, including to homeless families and youth. She suggests scheduling a meeting with the local library system’s youth liaison (most public libraries have one in their central offices) to get a sense of what the library offers. You can also explain what supplies, venues, classes or book donations you need. Have an idea of whether youth would be better served by attending programs held at your facilities, or by meeting at the libraries themselves.

Project RISE does both. Akron public libraries hold reading programs in seven Project RISE sites, and Vittek and her colleagues regularly visit shelters to give away free books to youth (she notes that urban fiction titles are usually the most popular) and tell them where to find the closest library branches. Library staff hold computer classes at the shelters, giving youth an opportunity to learn Photoshop and other resume-enhancing programs. They also lead group discussions on things like school, work and family issues and even host craft projects, like tie-dying.

But because the library has more space and dedicated classrooms, Project RISE and library staff sometimes shuttle youth to libraries to take part in clubs and classes, tour the library and learn about its resources, and get library cards.

Vittek aims to convince youth that libraries can fit into their lives. “We try to get them to realize that the library is a safe, fun place that everyone is welcome to,” she says.

9-5 pm Eastern