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The New Haven Free Public Library won a $46,155 grant earlier this month to fund a full-time social worker Monday through Friday at the main branch library on Elm Street. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services American Rescue Plan for Museums and Libraries program grant the library system received will support the position through June 30. In a partnership with Liberty Community Services, a homelessness services nonprofit, the library was previously able to supply a social worker at the main branch part time four afternoons a week. They were able to do so with funding from the Community Development Block Grant. Now, that funding will be channeled to bring in a social worker at Fair Haven and Wilson public library branches on Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternating Saturdays. 

“We’ve been scrambling around always trying to find money to support these services, so we’re really excited about this money,” city librarian John Jessen said in a press conference last week celebrating the grant at the library livestreamed by the New Haven Independent.    

Jessen said when the library began working with LCS seven years ago, they were able to have a social worker two afternoons a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the main branch. Since then, he said, they have received more grants and their partnership has kept “building and building.” Jessen noted how “fantastic” it is to have LCS in the building.

He estimated the main branch library social worker helped around 500 New Haveners a year to find and connect patrons to housing, health care and employment resources.

“A lot of folks in New Haven know that a library is not about just books,” Mayor Justin Elicker said at the press conference. “The library has also provided support for individuals that may be looking for housing, food or mental health support services for quite some time.”

He said the New Haven libraries serve as places for classes, community meetings, coffee with friends and neighbors, applying for jobs online and finding new resources. 

Elicker noted the library is often the first place New Haveners reach to be connected with social services in the city. 

“It’s about the New Haven Public Library doing more to help support our community in particular at this time when a lot of people are facing very significant challenges,” Elicker said.

Since the San Francisco Public Library started the practice in 2009, libraries across the country have begun to station social workers inside to assist librarians. 

“This is the best practice across the country right now to embed social services in the library,” said LCS Program Director Silvia Moscariello. She said LCS workers help to assist New Haveners with housing, employment and health care literacy. “It fits so beautifully in the library’s mission. … The library serves such a crucial function in homeless services. … They’re not patients, they’re not recipients, they’re not clients, they’re patrons and everyone’s on equal footing when they come here.” 

Moscariello said she has read many articles and posts about the intersection of libraries and homelessness lately. She said that comments by some librarians she saw “broke her heart.” Most of these comments were focused on how to get people out of libraries. 

Moscariello said LCS began working at the New Haven main branch in 2014 to help library staff with encounters they were “ill-equipped to deal with.” A trained social worker present could then intervene and help on certain issues.

“My experience here in New Haven is one of compassion — one of ‘How do we serve?’ — not how can we solve this by ushering people out, but how can we make a difference,” she said.

Each day a social worker is present at the library, Moscariello makes an announcement on the loudspeakers to alert patrons. Now, Moscariello said the social worker will have an office dedicated to meeting with patrons on the first floor with hours posted and a sign on the door. 

She said she and library staff will likely continue making announcements over the speaker system as “they make somebody come right over.”

Velma George, Homelessness in New Haven coordinator, said she and Moscariello dreamed of being able to support a full-time social worker at the library.

George said the library grant “compliments work we’re doing around the city” with a newly implemented “navigation hub” system that helps New Haveners facing housing issues reach the services they need.

“There are not too many places around town our clients are welcome. Being able to have a place like this and have the resources is a win-win,” George added. 

The main branch library at 133 Elm St. is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and closed Sundays. 

SOPHIE SONNENFELD
Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science and Anthropology.