When Riverton’s homeless shelter closed in 2021, staff at the local library said they “braced” for the impact to unhoused community members.
“We knew we were going to have to start adding (more) services and more openness for the unhoused, because we knew there would be an influx into our building,” Riverton Branch Library assistant Tannar Miller said during last month’s Zoom webinar with the Riverton Peace Mission. “The need from the unhoused … has grown.”
Miller outlined three “specific, major ways” the library offers support to unhoused people in Riverton, beginning with “physical services” – like access to restrooms, the internet, phone lines, and wall chargers – that are “so easy to take for granted.”
“(That’s) something that the library provides to anyone who walks through our doors,” Miller said. “(It’s) free.”
The library also offers unhoused individuals a free “place to go,” he continued – especially when outside temperatures are extreme.
“If you don’t have a home, or you’re struggling and it’s freezing … you can’t focus on catching your breath,” Miller explained. “The library as a physical place really offers that (opportunity to) sit and breathe and get their bearings – warm up and take the next step, whatever that is.”
The library is “one of the only places” in town where people can “be and exist without the need to pay money,” he pointed out.
“Our goal is everybody who walks through our doors is welcome, and they aren’t being judged,” he said. “They are free to be here and free to exist. … They can sit there and never say a word and never use anything other than a chair, and they are welcome. That offering of a physical place (is) important.”
The “greatest asset” the library offers the community, Miller said, is its librarians.
“The people who work here (are) there to help,” he said. “It’s our job to be a nonjudgmental and informative resource for those people, for our unhoused neighbors, as they work to find a better situation, or just to survive and take the next step forward.”
Library staff can help in a variety of ways, he said, including looking up phone numbers, aiding with job searches, addressing envelopes, finding local assistance programs, offering directions to the bus stop, and generally ensuring that unhoused community members “have that extra backing and support.”
“Maybe we don’t know what the situation is (or) what their stressor is or what exactly is happening … but we know we can help, so our goal is to do that,” he said. “Because there’s … often nowhere else they can go.”
Of course, there are “limitations” to what the library can do, Miller said – mostly due to a lack of funding that has already led to reductions in staffing and open hours.
“(That’s) really put a pinch on being able to do programming to specifically support the unhoused,” he said. “There’s only so much we can do. … But we do as much as we can, and we’re always trying to do more.”
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The RPM’s next Zoom webinar will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 6, featuring a conversation with Cary Heck, the chief probation officer for the Denver Adult Probation Department.
Heck will discuss ways to “better address crimes such as public intoxication – now the highest crime for arrests in Riverton,” the RPM said in a press release.
The press release says Heck has worked as a practitioner, administrator, researcher, and tenured professor in the field of criminal justice for 30 years.
In his current role, he “has worked to get his agency focused on the mission of helping to create long-term, pro-social behavioral change among clients,” the RPM said.
“He is working with the local criminal bench and other agencies to embrace and actively participate in evidence-based practices related to client management,” the press release says. “(He) has served as the Director of Research for the National Drug Court Institute and been instrumental in developing and publishing materials related to drug court evaluation and performance measures. Dr. Heck has also served as a consultant for several states and localities on substance abuse and crime issues including policy formulation, program administration, and management information systems.”
To register for the webinar, click here.