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Helping the Homeless at Queens Library

Posted by Yves Etheart

Courtney Nelson, Project Manager, Street Homeless Solutions, NYC Department of Homeless Services.

Do you or someone you know have questions about housing, homelessness, and other related issues?

Queens Library has teamed up with the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for our monthly Queens Connections event at Central Library in Jamaica, where DHS staff provide coffee and talk about housing resources and the other services that they offer.

We recently spoke with DHS’s Courtney Nelson about Queens Connections and how Queens Library helps DHS help the homeless.

What does the NYC Department of Homeless Services do for New Yorkers?
Our mission is to provide temporary shelter to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, and also help them get back to permanent housing as soon as possible. We do this by being compassionate, working with people based on their unique situations, getting them stable, and helping them return to their communities.

How did you decide to create your monthly Queens Connections event at the Library?
In January 2016, Mayor de Blasio decided to change how the City would deal with homelessness. One of these new ways is HOME-STAT (Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams). HOME-STAT helps us reach out to homeless people by working with more partners, like hospitals, libraries, and other community-based organizations and City agencies. HOME-STAT lets us work with libraries to connect at-risk people to our programs and services. People can visit the Queens Connections table each month and learn about housing-related legal services, get information about housing subsidies, tell us about their experience if they’re living in a shelter, and more.

What role do you think Queens Library can play in helping the homeless?
In general, libraries have always served as a central location for people in their communities. They are public spaces where folks can come and find free resources, or just spend quality time. We can empower library staff and share our resources with them, and then they can share those resources with patrons. We also know that a lot of people who are at risk, who are in shelters, or who are on the street are coming to Queens Library for a number of reasons, so libraries give us access to a larger audience and a space where we can connect with them.

What advice do you have for homeless New Yorkers and people who are close to being homeless?
Fear and shame can be a big part of being homeless. Fear can also prevent people from tackling their problems before they become homeless. People are sometimes embarrassed, or it can be too much for them to deal with, especially if they are working adults. My advice is try to be proactive, get information during our monthly events or pick up the information that we leave here for library staff. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for these resources—or to ask a librarian for help! If DHS works with Queens Library, and you let people know about the services that exist, then maybe one less person is on the street, or one less family is in a shelter—because they had access to resources and support before they lost their home.

The NYC Department of Homeless Services will be at Queens Central Library on July 27, from 3-5 p.m. to provide resources and information and answer any questions.