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Pima County Library receives $58,000 grant to study psychosocial needs

Grant will help assess needs as libraries become critical for helping vulnerable community members
Posted at 9:43 AM, Jul 10, 2024

Homelessness in Pima County surged by 60% between 2018 and 2023, according to the Pima County Coalition to End Homelessness.

The Pima County Public Library system has become a crucial support network for those affected.

Public libraries, traditionally known as places to borrow books, have now transformed into vital community centers offering much-needed resources to the homeless. At the forefront of this change is the Joel D. Valdez Library downtown, which, like other libraries in the area, serves as a haven for the most vulnerable members of the community.

Henry, a Tucson resident, emphasized the library's role beyond just providing books.

“It provides information, knowledge,” he said. “Where to go to get food, where to go to get hygiene, where to go get counseling, where to get housing.”

Emerson DeMeester-Lane, the Library Services Manager for the Pima County Library, acknowledged the increasing number of homeless individuals seeking assistance at the library.

“We do see an increase in homeless folks that come to the library,” he said. “But I also think that we have worked to try to connect them to resources more actively in the past five years.”

DeMeester-Lane highlighted the importance of building relationships with patrons to understand and address their needs.

“By building relationships with people, we come to understand they have needs,” he said. “As information professionals, we’re trying to meet the needs of those people coming through the door.”

Reflecting on his 16-year career, DeMeester-Lane observed a significant shift in the role of libraries.

“When I first started getting into libraries, we were talking about the social services element of libraries,” he said. “And I think that need has grown.”

To better address these evolving needs, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a $58,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences on June 18th. The grant is focused on studying psychosocial needs within the library system.

The grant will fund a consultant to evaluate the existing resources and recommend steps to strengthen the social services infrastructure.

“She’s going to work with us and figure out all the resources that we have at our disposal in Pima County,” DeMeester-Lane said. “And then what would be the most advantageous next step with her experience for how to create a stronger social services infrastructure.”

He mentioned a program that involved nurses coming to library locations to tend to the immediate health needs of patrons. He says that often, what appears to be psychological issues can actually be a manifestation of chronic health problems.

However, the program came to an end during the COVID-19 pandemic, as nurses were called back to healthcare centers.

DeMeester would like to see similar programs put in place, along with the presence of social workers within library branches.

The psychosocial needs study is expected to run for about nine months. Following this period, the library will collaborate with the county to determine which additional resources can be obtained for the upcoming year.

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Joel Foster is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9 who previously worked as an English teacher in both Boston and the Tucson area. Joel has experience working with web, print and video in the tech, finance, nonprofit and the public sectors. In his off-time, you might catch Joel taking part in Tucson's local comedy scene. Share your story ideas with Joel at joel.foster@kgun9.com, or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.