The King County Library System strives to serve communities by offering not only information and educational opportunities, but by connecting people in libraries with resources to meet their needs, bridging gaps and ultimately offering hope.
That is precisely what our social-service specialists, called Peers in Libraries, do. This new program creates a compassionate space for understanding and relating to others, while sharing stories without judgment and helping people to rebuild their lives.
How are Peers able to do all this? They have unique qualifications. Peers are individuals with lived experiences of mental or medical illness, substance abuse, homelessness and/or involvement with the criminal justice system. Now on a path to recovery, Peers draw on their experience, helping community members to identify and achieve wellness goals. Peers are able to build trust, connecting people with the community resources and services they need, including shelter and housing, education, food and mental health referrals.
KCLS has contracted with Peer Kent, a non-profit organization that aims to cultivate powerful, healthy lives by providing emotional support and development services to those impacted by addiction, mental health and/or HIV/AIDS. This partnership provides three full-time Peer Services Specialists, who work at the Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Bellevue libraries. Grant funding for these positions comes from the KCLS Foundation and King County Health Care for the Homeless Network.
Peers in Libraries is one of only a few such programs nation-wide, and the only one in Washington State. It is a powerful program that is showing to be very successful.
Peers work through a trauma-informed lens, linking those in need with KCLS staff and community partners. Since the program began last year, there have been 532 engagements (interactions or contacts made) with individual patrons. KCLS Peers also have made more than 300 referrals to library and community resources, helping patrons to find shelter, complete employment training, enroll in mental health treatment programs, and sign up for benefits.
A particular focus is working with adults and families who are experiencing housing instability. Peers collaborate with day centers, shelters, food banks, safe parking sites, encampments and substance abuse treatment clinics. Peers also do outreach at community locations and do whatever it takes to address patrons’ needs.
Peer stories are both heart-rending and inspiring. When a woman arrived at a library, cold and seeking a hotel voucher, a Peer determined that texting was the best way to communicate with her, as she was hard of hearing. He learned she was living in her van and had serious medical needs. To ensure her safety, he walked her to the local fire department, which helped find her shelter and access to medical care.
Another Peer assisted a father who had been searching for his son, who was experiencing homelessness. The two were reunited at a library, and the Peer helped set up the young man with a much-needed cell phone.
Peers in Libraries reflects KCLS’ commitment to creating communities of inclusion and belonging, and reducing barriers to access.
Working with individual patrons demands considerable personal effort and a tremendous skill set. Peers are vigilant about maintaining their own recovery and drawing from strong support systems; they practice the skills they are helping others to build. We are so fortunate to have these Peers at KCLS, and for the impactful services they provide.
There are many other ways KCLS works every day to support King County residents, to solve problems and add civic value. Check us out! Come visit us in person or online at kcls.org.