A Day in the Life

Photos and story by Giles Clasen

The Denver Public Library Central branch opens at 10 a.m. each week day. More than two dozen individuals, many living on the streets or in shelters, wait by the door. Public libraries are safe, free environments that serve as de facto drop in centers for homeless individuals. Denver Public Library hired their first social worker in 2015 to address the growing need. Since then, the team has grown to include four Peer Navigators and five social workers. In 2017, the team served 3,501 individuals and expects to serve an additional 1,500 customers in the next year as their star continues to grow.  


  The Denver Public Library  Community Resource Specialists carry a blend of supplies to help unhoused customers. The supplies include everyday necessities like socks, snacks, and water. The team also carries the life-saving tool Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat emergency opioid overdose. Elissa Hardy, community resource manager, introduced the Narcan treatment program to the library in 2015. Currently, 400 DPL library staff are trained to administer Narcan in emergencies and in the past year have saved 17 lives.

The Denver Public Library Community Resource Specialists carry a blend of supplies to help unhoused customers. The supplies include everyday necessities like socks, snacks, and water. The team also carries the life-saving tool Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat emergency opioid overdose. Elissa Hardy, community resource manager, introduced the Narcan treatment program to the library in 2015. Currently, 400 DPL library staff are trained to administer Narcan in emergencies and in the past year have saved 17 lives.

  Rochelle Brogan  is a Peer Navigator at the Denver Public Library. Peer Navigators are formerly homeless individuals who work side-by-side with social workers, providing direct care to DPL customers. Brogan first experienced homelessness after an injury prevented her from continuing her work as a massage therapist at a chiropractor’s office. Long-term depression made it even more difficult for Brogan to find or sustain employment. She received a housing voucher from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in 2010. Brogan first worked in homeless advocacy at Mental Health Center of Denver.  “I wanted to role model for the city of Denver that peer work is important and needed,” said Hardy. “Because of the connection they can make on the ‘I’ve been there’ level.”

Rochelle Brogan is a Peer Navigator at the Denver Public Library. Peer Navigators are formerly homeless individuals who work side-by-side with social workers, providing direct care to DPL customers. Brogan first experienced homelessness after an injury prevented her from continuing her work as a massage therapist at a chiropractor’s office. Long-term depression made it even more difficult for Brogan to find or sustain employment. She received a housing voucher from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in 2010. Brogan first worked in homeless advocacy at Mental Health Center of Denver.

“I wanted to role model for the city of Denver that peer work is important and needed,” said Hardy. “Because of the connection they can make on the ‘I’ve been there’ level.”

  The Community Resource team  at DPL helps unhoused customers navigate the web of social services available to those experiencing homelessness. One of the key services is helping individuals access transportation. The Community Resource team has a budget of $18,000 to buy bus tickets and other much-needed supplies for the second half of 2018.

The Community Resource team at DPL helps unhoused customers navigate the web of social services available to those experiencing homelessness. One of the key services is helping individuals access transportation. The Community Resource team has a budget of $18,000 to buy bus tickets and other much-needed supplies for the second half of 2018.

  The Community Resource team  wear rainbow laniards which are unique within the library system. The laniards show that the Community Resource team members are safe to talk about any subject.  “I haven’t ever worked with an organization in the past that was as bold and as concerned about being inclusive and really trying to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Alix Midgley, a social worker with the Denver Public Library. “Every organization has room to grow there, but it feels like we are really supported by our administration within the library in the work that we’re doing.”

The Community Resource team wear rainbow laniards which are unique within the library system. The laniards show that the Community Resource team members are safe to talk about any subject.

“I haven’t ever worked with an organization in the past that was as bold and as concerned about being inclusive and really trying to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Alix Midgley, a social worker with the Denver Public Library. “Every organization has room to grow there, but it feels like we are really supported by our administration within the library in the work that we’re doing.”

  Matt Glover  administers the VI-SPDAT test to James Whitchurch. Whitchurch became homeless after being released from prison for marijuana possession in Ohio. After his release, he faced over $25,000 in back child support for the time he spent behind bars. He struggles to earn enough money to get his own apartment due to extensive garnishment of his wages. The VI-SPDAT — Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool — is an interagency tool used to determine risk and prioritization in helping individuals access services. By participating in the VI-SPDAT, the DPL Community Resource Team is able to help individuals enroll in the city-wide resources available to unhoused individuals.

Matt Glover administers the VI-SPDAT test to James Whitchurch. Whitchurch became homeless after being released from prison for marijuana possession in Ohio. After his release, he faced over $25,000 in back child support for the time he spent behind bars. He struggles to earn enough money to get his own apartment due to extensive garnishment of his wages. The VI-SPDAT — Vulnerability Index Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool — is an interagency tool used to determine risk and prioritization in helping individuals access services. By participating in the VI-SPDAT, the DPL Community Resource Team is able to help individuals enroll in the city-wide resources available to unhoused individuals.

  Sonia Falcon  helps Gabriel schedule a Lyft ride to a medical appointment from the Hampden Branch Library. Lyft partners with Denver resource referral database 2-1-1 to give free rides to medical appointments for those experiencing poverty.  “Part of my role is assessing what the needs are in the community,” said Falcon. “Part of it is about assessing community need working with people experiencing homelessness and making sure they have access to resources. I think another part of the role is working with the staff in the library system making sure they feel secure and prepared to meet the needs as well.”

Sonia Falcon helps Gabriel schedule a Lyft ride to a medical appointment from the Hampden Branch Library. Lyft partners with Denver resource referral database 2-1-1 to give free rides to medical appointments for those experiencing poverty.

“Part of my role is assessing what the needs are in the community,” said Falcon. “Part of it is about assessing community need working with people experiencing homelessness and making sure they have access to resources. I think another part of the role is working with the staff in the library system making sure they feel secure and prepared to meet the needs as well.”

  Alix Midgley,  a community resource specialist at DPL, helps Zach Crowell while Tim Hilton and Jay Martinez cook lunch on a propane space heater in front of the Smiley Branch Library. Midgley worked with Crowell to get the resources he’ll need to replace his drivers license. Crowell is unable to work without a valid ID.  The Community Resource Team originally worked out of only the Central Branch Library, but as the staff has expanded they have worked to offer services in all of the DPL branches. This gives the DPL Community Resource Team a unique geographic footprint to reach many unhoused individuals often overlooked because they live away from downtown Denver, where most of the city’s homeless resources are focused. ■

Alix Midgley, a community resource specialist at DPL, helps Zach Crowell while Tim Hilton and Jay Martinez cook lunch on a propane space heater in front of the Smiley Branch Library. Midgley worked with Crowell to get the resources he’ll need to replace his drivers license. Crowell is unable to work without a valid ID.

The Community Resource Team originally worked out of only the Central Branch Library, but as the staff has expanded they have worked to offer services in all of the DPL branches. This gives the DPL Community Resource Team a unique geographic footprint to reach many unhoused individuals often overlooked because they live away from downtown Denver, where most of the city’s homeless resources are focused. ■