Denver Public Library prides itself on being a safe place to learn.
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Its newest program builds on the library’s existing social work team. Three “peer navigators” will work with patrons, particularly Denver’s homeless population, to help them find housing resources, mental health services, get an I.D., find substance abuse services and more.
The part-time navigators have what the library calls “lived experience,” meaning they are in recovery, or have found stable living situations after homelessness. They meet with customers to help others figure out the unknowns of social services, as well as lead group discussions.
“I know a lot of things, but I have no lived on the streets. I do not have those experiences,” said Elissa Hardy, Denver Public Library’s full-time social worker. “I think that they’re more comfortable with one of the navigators, because they know that they’ve walked the walk.”
Navigators are trained and employed by the Colorado Mental Wellness Network, which oversees the program. The program is funding by a $41,000 grant from the Justice Assistance Grant through the Department of Justice.
Denver Public Library’s community resource specialist program began in February 2015, with the hiring of Hardy. Denver City Council has approved hiring a second full-time person for this initiative.