Edmonton Public Library expands program helping homeless

Watch above: Edmonton’s Stanley Milner Library houses social workers to help those in need. As Kendra Slugoski reports, the outreach program is expanding.

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Public Library’s outreach program, which aims to support and empower the city’s homeless population, will soon be expanding to five more libraries.

In partnership with Boyle Street Community Services, the EPL’s outreach program launched in 2011 in response to the increasing number of people seeking refuge in the Stanley A. Milner library downtown. The downtown library is currently the only location for the outreach program.

“We try to connect people to resources. We do a lot of trying to get people housing, mental house assistance, assistance with addictions, family doctors, jobs,” explained Jared Tkachuk, an outreach worker who has been a part of the program since it began.

Tkachuk says the library offers a safe and comfortable environment to at-risk individuals who may not access other existing social services. He says staff members treat everyone equally, which helps the homeless open up.

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“People really get very isolated and feel helpless and hopeless and cynical about the system so we try to build up people’s belief,” he said Wednesday. “For people on the streets, which is a tough life, time and time again we hear it’s their refuge. It’s a place they come and take solace in.”

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READ MORE: Progress made, but much work remains to end homelessness in Edmonton

Until recently, Dave Sheffield had been homeless for nearly eight years. He says the outreach program has been very helpful and welcoming.

“I like this place because it has computers in it and it has books; I like to read westerns,” he said. “As long as we don’t hurt the library, the library will let us stay in here.”

Dixie Campbell, who also takes advantage of the program, has been homeless for three years.

“I needed help to find a place to sleep, live and somewhere to eat,” she said. “They told me about all the outreach programs.”

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The EPL’s program will soon be expanding to offer services at the Strathcona, Woodcroft, Spruce Woods, Highlands and Abbottsfield branches. There are currently two outreach workers on staff -another will be hired to meet the demand.

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“A lot of time people, people who are not downtown, are actually more vulnerable because they’re not close to the services,” said Tkachuk. “There are social problems everywhere, they’re not restricted to the inner-city core.”

For the first three years the program was funded by the province, but that funding has run out. The library has stepped in to cover the costs, cutting back on equipment and one staff position in order to do so.

While he doesn’t believe it should be the library’s responsibility to fund the program, city councillor Ben Henderson says he’s happy the program will continue.

“This is helping people that the province says it wants to help, that is part of their responsibility,” said Henderson. “My frustration is, we get all these great pilot programs happening and then the pilot comes to an end, and instead of going, ‘This is a great success, let’s keep on supporting it,’ the money just vanishes.”

The expanded program is expected to be running by the end of the year.

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News.

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