Four local libraries are seeking funding to hire a part-time social worker to help them provide mental health services to patrons who rely on the library as a shelter.
"Libraries are changing along with other agencies in town and we are discovering that we are home to people that have mental health issues, people that are homeless,” Berlin-Peck Memorial Library Director Helen Malinka said during a recent Berlin Town Council meeting. “The library is a safe place, it's a shelter. However, it brings a whole other set of issues and staff are not trained to handle these kinds of problems.”
In collaboration with the directors of the Southington, Plainville and New Britain libraries, she is exploring applying for a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain to hire a professional to train staff and provide services directly.
“We just want to make sure they have everything they need that we can provide, but if there's anything extra they need that's what the social worker is for,” she said. “This is beyond library resources… I’m talking about if they need a place to sleep at night or where they can take a shower.”
Kaylah Smith, the foundation’s assistant director of development, said she met with the directors on Sept. 6 to give them guidance on potential funding sources.
“This is something we have just begun to speak about,” Smith said.
“We’re just thinking about the possibility,” said Kristi Sadowski, executive director of the Southington Public Library. “I think that one of the places that people go when they have questions about what services are available to them is the library.”
In many cases, municipal social service departments are already stretched too thin to bring their resources to the towns’ libraries.
Doug Truitt, Berlin’s social services director, said many libraries across the country are moving toward having social service and mental health professionals.
“People with limited resources, homeless people, people with all sorts of life situations end up going to the library,” he said. “They’re going to encounter quite a cross section of people, many with needs.”