For the past six months or so, my fellow teen services librarian and I have been building a partnership with a local drop-in center for homeless youth. We began by meeting with staff several times and taking a tour of their facility to get a better sense of what they do, and how we could help. Then we moved into outreach efforts, like tabling at an on-site job fair. We even revamped their on-site library.
By this time we’d really gotten to know the staff, and we’d also spent a good bit of time at the shelter talking with the youth. They mentioned weekly gaps in drop-in services, as well as a desire for help with job and education goals. Our partners suggested that we all collaborate to co-host a weekly drop-in at the library on Thursday afternoons, when both downtown youth shelters are closed.
We’ve been holding drop-ins for a little over two months now. When my schedule allows, I visit the shelter on Thursday mornings to personally invite youth to the program. Several staff from the partner org co-host with us each week: the outreach coordinator, an adult intern, and a peer intern. They are all very talented at working with youth, and full of great ideas. It’s absolutely a co-production from both partners. Drop-in wouldn’t work if the library tried to host it on our own.
The library provides snacks, and we do different activities each week—gaming, crafts, etc.—all while talking to the youth about where they are in their lives, and what they need. While many of the participants are unstably housed, others attend private school. Drop-in attendance is diverse in just about every possible way: financially, ethnically, culturally, racially. For many of them, it’s a unique opportunity to hang out in a friendly, safe environment with teens whose circumstances are very different from their own.
Sometimes participants want to work on resumes or interview skills, so my coworker and I help with that. Sometimes they need our partners’ help connecting to shelter or other resources. Sometimes they just want to hang out and eat popcorn.
During the first couple of months of drop-ins, we collected information from participants about what they want and need from the program. Now we’re using that information to design evaluations that will measure the impacts we all want to see. It’s a slow process, but I’m confident that the outcomes from this program are going to be profound.
Already, we’re seeing big mental shifts among participants. Youth who feared they wouldn’t be welcome in the library, or who had previously visited but had never spoken to staff, are now regularly accessing library resources. Our partners have seen more youth accessing their resources, too, and we’ve connected at least one participant with a job. I can’t wait to see where this partnership will go.