By Beth Treffeisen
In an effort to provide additional care to individuals in need, the Boston Public Library (BPL) has created a new outreach manager position to provide a path of services to unsheltered individuals drawn to the spaces and resources of the libraries in Boston.
The goal of the program is to ensure that any individual that visits the library and is in need has some sort of path to a long-term solution.
“The library has always been a place that welcomes everyone, regardless of status in life and challenges they experience,” said David Leonard, the BPL president. “It’s a sanctuary to some, and we’ll be able to extend that with these services.” Mike Bunch, an existing outreach manager case manager social worker at Pine Street Inn, has taken on the position, and will work to provide assessment, crisis intervention and intensive case management services to homeless or at-risk individuals who visit the library.
Bunch will begin at BPL’s Central Library in Copley, but will expand his work to library locations that are in the most demand throughout the city.
According to Jennifer Tracey, the director of Office and Recovery Services for the City of Boston, and Jim Greene from the Department of Neighborhood Development, the new outreach manager will focus on the Dudley, South End and Copley branches first.
Bunch is bilingual in English and Spanish, and previously worked with shelter and treatment in providers in Austin, Texas and is a former Peace Corps volunteer.
Talks of creating an outreach manager began over a year ago, but have been in actively pursued since June, 2017.
The outreach manager is hired through Pine Street Inn, and will be based at BPL’s Central Library. It is funded through the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development and the Boston Public Library, and managed in partnership with the Pine Street Inn.
In addition, BPL is hiring a new Reference Librarian that specializes in health and human services and the recently launched “Addiction Recovery Resources in Boston Guide,” containing information on substance use and recovery services.
“The investment in this newly created position and the resources being made available by our dedicated library staff join a range of citywide resources already helping to support and aid our homeless population in and around our libraries and across the city,” said Mayor Martin Walsh in a statement. “These efforts directly support the BPL’s mission of serving everyone.”
Over the past couple of weeks, Leonard said that the library has heard some concerns from nearby neighbors that there has been an increase in the number of homeless hanging out on the steps or around the building.
“Some individuals don’t have anywhere to go overnight,” said Leonard. “We hope this will lead to a reduction of people staying in and around the area overnight.”
Leonard said that he is always happy to have people use the library, whether it be to read, work on a resume, learn some new skills or even as a safe or welcoming space, but he would like to see these added resources lead to less people trying to sleep in the area overnight.
In June, 2015, the Walsh Administration released Boston’s Way Home, the City’s action plan to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
The action has redesigned the way Boston offers services to homeless individuals, providing a housing first model – where an individual’s entrance into the shelter system is also their entrance to a path toward permanent, stable housing.
Since January of 2016, close to 400 chronically homeless individuals have been housed.
“We think this is a great addition that will go towards the city-wide solution,” said Leonard.