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How Toronto's Libraries Help The Homeless

When we think of places where homeless people hang out during the day, our thoughts likely turn to park benches and downtown sidewalks.

But the reality is that our public libraries, especially those in hard-pressed neighbourhoods in Toronto, have become the place to go for growing numbers of homeless men and women seeking refugee from the heat, cold, snow and rain — or the hard life on the streets.

Emilio Estevez took to the Toronto Reference Library to promote his new film, The Public.

Indeed, many Toronto Public Library branches have seen a steady increase in recent years in the number of homeless people using their facilities. At some downtown Toronto branches, librarians interact with as many homeless people as do workers at homeless shelters.

It’s obvious why: libraries are warm, safe, don’t cost anything to enter, offer free computers and internet, and you can stay for hours as long as you’re not creating a disturbance.

Now, in a move that responds to the rise in homeless people using their branches, the Toronto Public Library has hired its first full-time social worker to deal with homelessness.

It’s a bold move that signals the importance the Toronto library is placing on offering programs for the homeless and in training its entire staff to deal better with the needs of the homeless, such as helping them to find emergency shelter, food banks and clothing. If successful, it should be copied by big-city libraries across Canada.