Earth & Conservation

This Program Humanizes the Homeless

Many homeless people take refuge in libraries, so outreach programs are taking their services to the obvious places: libraries.

Homelessness is a problem that plagues every large American city and San Francisco is no exception. There are currently 7,000 homeless people in the city of San Francisco, with a population of less than 1 million in total, reports City Lab. Many of them choose to spend their days in the library, seeking temporary refuge from the streets they call home.

That's how Lisa Esguerra became a library social worker. Many of the city's homeless are in severe need of mental health services, medical attention and assistance in finding housing. Esguerra comes to the library in search of people that need her help, often finding them pacing back and forth between rows of books or talking to themselves. She lets them know she can help, telling them about the different social services she can offer.

Watch More: Is Housing a Human Right?

Seven years ago, Esguerra met a homeless man at the library named Henry. Henry suffered from depression after his son passed away. He became an alcoholic. Eventually he lost his job and spent nine months living on the streets.

Esguerra found him subsidized housing and mental health services. Then, she hired him. Henry is now part of the library social services team as a health and safety associate. He now spends his days at the library as the one offering help and support to those in the situation he came from.

"The homeless feel safe talking to me because I tell them that I've been there, too. I feel authentic compassion for the people I'm trying to help. I believe this goes a long way because they know I am not faking it, and they feel comfortable opening up to me," Henry told City Lab.

Esguerra said the program helps de-stigmatize homelessness. Many of the people she helps once had steady jobs and routine lives, but they've had to deal with mental health issues, medical problems and financial hardship.

The program has been so successful that not only is it expanding to other San Francisco libraries, but many public libraries around the country are following suit, including the Dallas Public Library and the Pima County Library in Tucson.

Watch More: Raw Portraits of the Homeless in America