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New pop-up resource center arrives in Harold Washington Library

Posted  3 years ago  in  Trending

3 MIN READ – Chicago Loop Alliance’s Street Ambassadors, Heartland Alliance Health’s street outreach team and Thresholds have begun a partnership with the Chicago Public Library, operating a resource center in the Harold Washington Library for people experiencing homelessness and others in need of support. Chicago Loop Alliance and Heartland Alliance Health will operate the booth from 1-2:30 p.m. every other Thursday, and Thresholds will operate from 9:30 a.m.-noon every Wednesday. Thursday, July 30, was the first day for the new pilot program. It will run through at least the end of September.

Last winter, Chicago Loop Alliance’ Street Team Program Manager Octavion Thomas and Heartland Alliance Health’s Danielle Woods approached Harold Washington Library with the idea.

“Many individuals who panhandle on State Street, who are experiencing homelessness, or who need resources like internet access frequent the library,” Thomas said. “We do a lot of work on the street, but we thought these people, too, could benefit from our services. With this program, anyone who needs assistance will speak with us at our stationed areas in the library, and we will then provide the needed service.”

Providing resources to vulnerable populations, including individuals experiencing drug dependency, mental health issues, etc., is more urgent than ever. The impacts of COVID-19 and recent social unrest have exacerbated economic insecurity and concerns for safety. Many of the spaces in the Loop used by individuals experiencing homelessness, like restrooms or any temperature-controlled environments, are less accessible due to closures or capacity restrictions. In May, Chicago Loop Alliance partnered with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to install two portable toilets in the Loop as a quick, tangible effort to address these issues. Dedicating time to operating a resource center within the Harold Washington Library will allow Chicago Loop Alliance to more directly address the underlying causes of homelessness and housing insecurity. This work takes on an even greater urgency ahead of a Chicago winter.

“We have had our Street Ambassadors on State Street since 2013, and we’ve tasked them with everything from cleaning up litter and sanitizing touch points to offering directions and making meaningful connections with people experiencing homelessness,” said Michael Edwards, Chicago Loop Alliance President and CEO. “By having our team members on State Street seven days a week, these individuals are known by name, and our ambassadors are able to connect them with the resources they need based on their unique situations. We’ve developed meaningful partnerships with social service organizations over the years, and we’re glad to continue our work with Heartland Alliance Health and Thresholds on this new initiative that will serve any Chicagoan in need of some help.”

“Most of the people we serve gravitate toward the Loop to get their needs supported, so it’s up to us to make sure they are connected to benefits, employment opportunities and housing,” said Yolonda Townsend Harper, Manager of Clinical Operations at Heartland Alliance Health. “The library in particular is a place of refuge for people experiencing homelessness, so this new partnership with the Harold Washington Library means we get to serve people where they feel safe and supported.”

“Thresholds’ approach to homeless outreach includes long-term engagement that helps clients find more permanent solutions,” said Sam Guardino, Thresholds’ Homeless Outreach Program Director. “The Harold Washington Library is a safe, clean place where our teams, who are equipped with laptops, can connect clients to benefits, housing opportunities, IDs, and mental and physical healthcare resources. We are thrilled to partner with the library, Heartland Alliance Health and Chicago Loop Alliance on this project at such a crucial time for this vulnerable population.”

By working together, last winter these organizations matched 10 people experiencing homelessness on State Street in the Loop with housing opportunities. These Chicagoans, some of whom had been homeless for over 20 years, now have apartments of their own. With this new resource center pilot project, the organizations are hopeful for more success stories.