Crook County Library welcomes its first onsite social worker
For those seeking support in accessing housing, physical and mental health services, employment or basic needs, a visit to the local library should be in order.
"People generally come to the library because they want to make their lives better, whether by finding a job, occupying their minds, researching topics of interest, or any number of other reasons," said Crook County Library Director Buzzy Nielsen.
The librarians try to help these people as best they can, but they're not social workers.
"Sometimes, we're not the best people to connect others with the resources they most need, but we can connect them to someone who can," Nielsen explained. "That's why we wanted to have a social worker: to help our patrons connect with the social services they need to improve their lives."
Through a partnership with Thrive Central Oregon and the Central Oregon Health Council, Crook County Library is hosting a social worker one day a week.
Community Outreach Advocate Britta Schroeter-Phillips recently began visiting the library Study Room every Tuesday from 1 to 5 p.m.
"Britta really helps us in that she can be that point of contact for people, and she's trained to help people who are in situations that are pretty tough," said Assistant Library Director Jane Scheppke.
When people come to the library, they can sign up for a one-on-one, 30-minute meeting with a social worker to work on whatever it is the individuals bring to the table.
"Libraries provide natural spaces within our communities that are welcoming, provide respite from the outdoors and access to facilities and internet," said Thrive Central Oregon Executive Director Sarah Kelley. "We have found them to be the perfect place to connect with folks that could benefit from our services in a place they are already occupying."
Following a model piloted by Thrive and Deschutes Public Library, Schroeter-Phillips assists library patrons who need to connect with local social services, such as applying for government benefits, getting housing vouchers, finding housing, getting health insurance, finding mental health care, and generally just connecting people with the help they need.
"The idea of having a social worker in libraries is a relatively new one, but it's been piloted at a lot of different libraries around the state," Scheppke said.
One of the first that was really successful was at the Multnomah County Library System in Portland, she pointed out. Then in September of 2015, the Deschutes Public Library System started having a social worker from Thrive Central Oregon come to their downtown Bend branch.
Thrive Central Oregon seeks to connect individual needs with community resources. The main office is in Redmond, but their outreach sites cover Redmond, Bend, La Pine and Prineville.
"Individuals and families who are living in poverty are often in need of social services and support," Kelley said. "A lack of knowledge of what the community has to offer, transportation and access barriers, and difficulty in navigating systems are primary reasons individuals and families are unable to access these community service supports."
Schroeter-Phillips comes from Chicago and has a Masters in Social Work from Portland State University. Since she began at the local library on Jan. 23, she has seen an average of four to five people per week.
"Britta is with us thanks to a grant from the Central Oregon Health Council. It pays for someone around a year and a half of service, but we're hoping to find funding to keep it going longer," Nielsen said.
Kelley said this is the fastest they have seen their program being utilized in a new community.
"People who are faced with the challenges of increasing housing prices and complicated access to resources and benefits are everywhere, we are just glad to extend this service to the residents of Crook County," she said.
"Patrons and our partner agencies alike have been really pleased to have Britta as a resource," Nielsen added.