ROCHESTER, Minnesota — Recently, social worker Allison Carpenter said a woman entered the Rochester Public Library in distress.
“Just absolutely beside herself, desperate to find a way to get home out of state,” Carpenter said. The woman had ended up in Rochester, Minnesota, for a job that never came to fruition.
Carpenter immediately called on her network of local social workers and services to find a way to help the woman get home.
The woman left the library with a bus ticket confirmation in hand.
“She came out of my office with her arms in the air, I could tell that even though she was wearing a mask she had a big smile. And she just started shedding tears, sobbing and saying, ‘I have to go home,'” Carpenter said.
In her office at the library, she helps people navigate the often confusing and overwhelming social safety net – a social safety net even more in demand during a pandemic that comes with job, housing and financial losses, reported Minnesota Public Radio News.
Before hiring Carpenter earlier this year, library staff received questions about all sorts of things they weren’t equipped to answer, reference librarian Brian Lind said.
“Questions about housing, about emergency resources,” he said. “We would have people just in crisis, psychological or mental health issues or chemical issues. And we basically had a phone number book that we could refer people to and that was about all we could really go to, not being professionals in this field.
Hiring Carpenter reflects a growing recognition that libraries are no longer just books and quiet spaces, Lind said. Libraries in Minneapolis and St. Paul have similar programs, as do libraries across the country.
For people who have no shelter, libraries provide a place of warmth or Internet access. For newcomers to town, it’s a natural place to connect with the community.
“Because libraries are such a community gathering space, libraries are increasingly turning to the field of social work to help fill some of the gaps,” Lind said.
The pandemic has highlighted needs for housing, food, financial assistance and mental health, said Kelli DeCook, director of child protective services for Family Services Rochester. His organization sends social workers throughout the city and has partnered with the library to launch its program.
“Resources really related to the pandemic have increased over the past two years, and homelessness is really a struggle in our community,” she said.
In the last few weeks she worked at the library, Carpenter said she helped people find food support or connected them with housing options. Some need mental health or chemical dependency support.
Some people, she says, just want to talk.
“I tend to try to get people to just tell me their story. And from there, it’s kind of like a fact-finding mission for me,” she said.
She takes notes. She is trying to figure out what other services people might need now and in the future.
Carpenter sees the long game in these ongoing conversations with library regulars. She said when people feel heard and understood, it builds trust.
“Now that we’ve spent half an hour, 45 minutes and talking, it almost gives me like a map to work with, for when they can come back later ready to work on something else,” she said. declared. .
In her office at the library, Carpenter said she felt at home — a natural extension of the library’s mission.
“There are people whose passion in life is to find answers to the information you seek,” she said. “And now there’s me to help connect to resources.”