That time I forgot a crack pipe on my ear.

It was about 8:00am. I had just arrived at the homeless shelter I worked at. The details of the day have faded with time, but my memory tells me that it was summer. I think it was one of the 15 days per year when the Chicago area is not too hot, too cold, too […]

How about a social work intern in your library?

Howdy! Last week we tackled the question about whether libraries should hire social workers to support folks who need help beyond what the library can provide. If you have no budget but really want to bring social services to those you serve, you may be asking: Are social work interns a good option? MAYBE. Social […]

Should libraries hire social workers?

“Should our library hire a social worker to help with issues we can’t help with like mental health, housing assistance, etc.?” Library managers ask me this A LOT.  Over the years, libraries have been transformed into community centers. It’s natural that the most vulnerable in the community seek out libraries for help with tough questions. […]

The world is worth saving…

Snow huddled in the creases of the Rocky Mountains. A fat Marmot—like a groundhog, but unable to predict spring—chattered at us angrily. My 23-year-old son, Cameron, and I were at the peak of a mountain, nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. We sat on large grey rocks with a 360-degree panoramic view of craggy heights, […]

How do I get people to leave at closing time?

Ryan, How do you pleasantly convince stubborn patrons that it is time to leave at closing time? We do a pre-closing announcement about 15 minutes before closing. 98% of people are good about collecting their materials and making their way to the front desk. However, we do have that occasional person that doesn’t want to […]

My heart grew two sizes

Last month we hosted the “Pennies in the Cup” 28-day challenge where we committed to preventing conflict with the vulnerable folks we serve. I was blown away by the number of folks who signed up for the Challenge: There’s one story in particular that I want to share with you because it embodies “Pennies in […]

“Get a job, bum!” someone screamed from a passing car.

Jake carried six bags of crushed aluminum cans down a busy street. He wasn’t walking very fast. The bags were heavy and tearing in several places. “Get a job, bum!” someone screamed from a passing car.  Jake kept his head down and continued walking. He didn’t want a confrontation. Eventually, Jake reached the recycling center. […]

When is a question not a question?

I was coming back from the hospital cafeteria when the nurse stopped me in the hall. “And how are YOU doing?” she asked me. I just stared at her. I had been suppressing my emotions for several weeks. I genuinely didn’t know. We were in a large hospital in New York City. I had been […]

You’re not wrong. Right now IS harder than ever.

I get several emails per week from people who say that they—and their organizations—are at a breaking point. They cite the same things: Increased numbers of individuals experiencing homelessness. More mental illness (and more severe mental illness). Overwhelmed staff quitting for better pay and less conflict at Chipotle. More physically frail elderly homeless individuals. More […]

Another problem with sexual harassment.

It was a calm Friday night in the homeless shelter.  The church volunteers were serving spaghetti. One of the new residents walked up to me smiling broadly. He was in his early 20’s, thin, nicely dressed, Asian and wearing thick coke-bottle glasses. The conversation went something like this: Ryan:    Good evening!  How my I […]