van and book trucks outside

SBPL’s Outreach Van Supports Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Authored on
June 2, 2022

Grant-funded Community Connections Project Will Support Access to Information and Social Services at Santa Barbara Public Library

Since October, Santa Barbara Public Library has been visiting Neighborhood Navigation Centers with its Library on the Go outreach vehicle to provide services to individuals experiencing homelessness. The Neighborhood Navigation Centers, or NNCs, are organized by SB ACT and include many organizations such as Showers of Blessings, Doctors Without Walls, SB County Behavioral Wellness, and other social services agencies providing basic necessities to our houseless neighbors. NNCs are held Tuesday mornings at the Carillo and Castillo St Commuter Lot and Thursday afternoons at Alameda Park. A new location in the Eastside Neighborhood is launching on March 30, 2022, from 8 am to 10 am at Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, 535 E Yanonali Street.

The Library on the Go van is equipped with high-powered wifi that will support many devices, a charging station, computers, and a printer. Patrons can borrow books and materials, including Chromebooks and internet hotspots, even if they don’t have a permanent address by applying for a Welcome Card from the Santa Barbara Public Library. But ultimately, it’s the helpful staff that are the real draw.

“Providing services to people experiencing homelessness is all about building relationships over time, treating them with dignity, and meeting them where they’re at while offering what they need. As we get to know people and their basic needs are met, those we meet have the chance to learn about our workforce development, adult literacy, or computer skills classes,” said Supervising Ahmad Merza, who coordinates the Library on the Go outreach van services. “It takes time to build trust, but it makes all the difference.”

On average, Library staff assist 75-100 people each month with completing paperwork to obtain copies of vital documents, applying for state assistance programs like Medi-Cal, or obtaining a lifeline phone. Many also go on to participate in other Adult Education programs to get job search assistance or learn and practice their computer skills.

“The services offered by the Library at both their physical sites and locations served by the mobile outreach van are an asset for people living on the streets here in Santa Barbara. As a contributor to Neighborhood Navigation Centers (NNCs), the Library’s mobile service van is a natural addition to the other services provided – mental health support, case management, clothing, showers, and medical care – and makes it possible for us to assist more individuals in achieving their goals,” said Kayla Peterson, Program Manager for SB ACT.

Over the last few years, Santa Barbara Public Library has been participating with local stakeholders, including formerly and currently houseless individuals and the organizations that serve them, as part of the SB ACT on Homelessness Steering Committee. This collaboration helps address immediate needs, develop long-range plans, and brainstorm strategies to fill in gaps without duplication of efforts. The collective impact model ensures communication is constant among service providers.

A California State Library Community Connections Library Services and Technology Act grant supports SBPL outreach to Neighborhood Navigation Center sites. This funding supports staff at Libraries across the state in developing models to offer resource navigation services to community members to eliminate barriers that prevent people from accessing vital community resources, particularly in the areas of housing, health, nutrition, employment, and education. In addition to outreach, the Library has developed staff and volunteer training for the services provided by local agencies in order to refer library patrons to needed services more effectively. Library staff also offer one-on-one consultations to community members as part of the Adult Education services.

“Libraries are about access to information and community education, whether that information is stored in a book, online, or in many cases, accessible through people who work at human service organizations. Just as the Library helps people find the book to answer their questions, we connect members of the community with the right person to help them in local social services agencies,” said Library Director Jessica Cadiente.

It isn’t just people experiencing homelessness that take advantage of the helpful staff in the Library. Individuals and families from all walks of life ask questions about community resources or request assistance navigating challenging situations.

“By strengthening relationships with partners and embedding the idea of resource navigation into all library services, we’re strengthening the capacity to provide effective social service assistance, which builds resilience and improves the health and wellbeing of our communities,” Cadiente explains.

In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, City Council allocated $142,000 to fund a social services support worker position to be embedded in the Library. The City contracted with Family Services Agency to fill the position, but it has been challenging to recruit in the social services field locally, and it remains vacant.

Contact: Molly Wetta, Library Services Manager
Phone: (805) 564-5642