Share story

AURORA, Ill. (AP) — Libraries in the Chicago suburbs are making efforts to ensure homeless people feel welcome and are treated with dignity.

Ryan Dowd, the executive director of Hesed House, a homeless shelter in Aurora, has been training staff at libraries there, in Naperville and across the country on how to work with homeless patrons, the Chicago Tribune reported .

His training focuses on using empathy to address issues such as body odor, those who carry too many bags or sleep in the library, and on how to interact with people who are delusional. Dowd said the training is designed to help library officials enforce rules but with respect.

“My hope is really that homeless individuals are treated better and that there will be fewer problems for organizations working with homeless individuals,” he said.

Dowd built the in-person program after a YouTube video he made of the training gained popularity. He’s also planning to release a book this month on the topic of homelessness and libraries.

“He’s sort of famous in library land,” said Michaela Haberkern, deputy director of the Aurora Public Library.

Library staff can easily drift into a “hard stance” about the rules, but Dowd’s training puts employees in a different mindset, Haberkern said.

“It did make me think more about the experience of being homeless,” she said. “What it would be like to be walking around all day, to be cold all the time, to be outside all the time, things like that.”

She said the library had fewer issues almost immediately after the training.

The Naperville Public Library sometimes gets pushback from residents who question whether homeless patrons should be allowed in the library if they’re likely not paying taxes, said David Della Terza, deputy director of the institution. He said staff members take the approach that libraries should be welcoming to all.

“Part of our duty as a library, to me, is to just be a place that’s open for everyone,” Della Terza said.


Information from: Chicago Tribune,