Serving the Underserved: Homelessness and Library Service in Trinidad, Colorado

Mallory Pillard, Director of the Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad, received a National Library of Medicine scholarship through the Colorado State Library and the Colorado Library Consortium to attend the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). She also presented at ARSL on Serving the Underserved.

I came back from ARSL to learn about the suicide of one of our patrons experiencing homelessness. I spent part of the first days back trying to avoid crying. D’andre was 21, and spent most days at the library with his girlfriend. He liked to listen to hip hop, watch movies. I would boil water for them to eat oatmeal or mac and cheese. We were attempting to get D’andre a copy of his birth certificates so that they could get their IDs, find a job, and I would say that as patrons go, we knew him pretty well. At my presentation, I mentioned the importance of learning someone’s name– for many months, D’andre assumed that he wasn’t entitled to a library card, and when we created him an account, he finally told me his real name. Perhaps the trauma of jail, homelessness, potential relationship problems, and having your humanity taken from you makes you keep personal belongings, even your name, close to heart. After his death, it was impressed upon me anew how important Mental Health First Aid has been for me and my team. Please look into this for yourself and those around you. Not only am I grieving, but my library team is grieving as well. The day before his death, D’andre came looking for me at the library– I take some comfort in knowing that I gave him a hug and I am grateful for the trust that he placed in me, and the library.

We grieve, but we move on. The next day we were in front of City Council to present the results of our survey, attached. The City Council meeting didn’t go as well as expected. The people who drove 3 hours to present were disappointed that Council didn’t seem to place any value on the data. It got dismissed in about a half hour– we didn’t get a chance to tell a story, it just looked like numbers on a screen. My reaction was to send an e-mail to my boss which detailed that we missed an opportunity– there is no next time for the experts to present the survey, our contract is over. There is no next time for D’andre. In the article about his death, the reporter mentions “last known address…” Do we want to be a community that places value on “last known address? or last known community, friends, and experience?” I quizzed my boss.

So, we create more opportunities. There is positive energy that resulted from a somewhat negative City Council Meeting:

1) I think this experience spurred the City Manager to draft a resolution to Council, see the attached. We don’t need City Council’s approval, or a vote to accomplish a Permanent Supportive Housing Project. So, we’ve changed our path slightly and we’re looking toward other places for support.
2) I met a concerned citizen who is going to join our advocacy committee. I also connected with someone starting a Human Services track at the college, as well as a representative from the health department. I’m leaning on the expertise and support of everyone around me.
3) I’m working with a journalist with a couple of our local papers to write a better story on key data points.

We were presented with a little barrier but we’re doing what we can with what we have to work around it. If you’d like to discuss the challenges in your community, Permanent Supportive Housing, homelessness, etc, feel free to give me a call or comment on this post. I’d be happy to talk more!

Thank you all for everything you do for your libraries, and communities.

Mallory Pillard, Library Director

Related Documents –
Permanent Supportive Housing – Q & A

PSH Resolution
Trinidad Final Report