LSTA highlights: Charlotte’s Job-Help For the Homeless

This is part of a series of posts highlighting ongoing or completed LSTA grant projects in NC.

CML's LSTA grant makes direct services available to the homeless

CML’s LSTA grant makes direct services available to the homeless

EZ Library Outreach Services Grant [1], FY2012-2013

Project Purpose

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) received $25,000 in LSTA funding from the State Library of NC in 2012-2013 to bring the knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources of the Job Help Center (JHC) of the CML to the Urban Ministry Center (UMC) of Charlotte, where about 600 homeless or disadvantaged individuals receive services daily. Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grants are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that are awarded by the State Library to eligible North Carolina libraries.

John Zika, senior library manager at the Main branch, said the program underscores a belief that the homeless are library patrons just like other city residents and deserve services catered to their needs. In fact, he did a sample survey of homeless residents and found 90 percent visited the library at least weekly, half had library cards and one-third used the library as a quiet place to read. More than 10 percent of the sample group were members of a book club (source).

Library officials say they have no way of knowing how many homeless visit the Main branch each day, or any other branches. But the location of the Main branch on North Tryon Street puts it within blocks of both the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and the Salvation Army Center of Hope. Both shelters require the homeless to be out during the day, except in times of extreme weather (source).

Barbara Thomas of the Urban Ministry Center said the new library program is breaking ground by bringing computer and skills classes directly to the homeless, rather than requiring them to travel elsewhere. That’s a big deal, because the homeless are typically on foot and reluctant to ask for help. According to Thomas,

“These days, you can’t really go from place to place, filling out applications and meeting people. A lot of that takes place online. It’s critical for them to have access to a computer and to be computer literate to find work. That’s why this library program is so important.” (source)

This LSTA grant enabled the CML to hire a part-time outreach employee and conduct one-year of outreach efforts to make job-finding support easily accessible for the homeless.  Our two major strategies to support the goal were:

  1. Making direct services available to the homeless. This involved meeting with homeless individuals, interviewing them about their employment situations, providing resume help, supporting their effort in applying for jobs, helping them to identify job possibilities, and referring them to community partners who might be better equipped to help these clients with a wide range of needs.
  2. Working with the volunteer job counselors who were already assisting the homeless at UMC to enhance their knowledge of the resources available through the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.  A further focus was to strengthen relationships between the volunteer job counselors and the staff of the JHC.

Finally, the grant effort focused on encouraging more of the homeless population at the UMC to use the JHC at Main Library.  The vision of the grant was to increase the level of familiarity with the JHC for all aspects of the homeless population and the volunteer job counselors at UMC who were serving the homeless population.

The UMC provides in-depth help to the homeless by assisting with resume writing from start to finish, and to help with online job applications which can take 1.5 to 2 hours to complete.  In cases where the homeless do not have well developed computer skills, UMC volunteers have worked closely with clients to help them complete these types of computer applications.  The Library’s JHC makes available a large number of computers and serves many more clients with a few staff members, and cannot provide the depth of service to the homeless there.  The volunteer job counselors at UMC fill a need among the homeless population that the JHC staff are not able to address.  As the UMC builds its volunteer job counselor work force, many more homeless will have access to the intensive and personal attention that they need in technology skills and job searching.

Project Goals

One project goal was to reach 100 distinct individuals, and to find employment for 10 of those individuals. The results of the LSTA Grant exceeded these  expectations, reaching 230 homeless or disadvantaged individuals and helping to secure employment for 31 individuals. In addition, there were 39 other individuals who were connected with short-term employment.

Assistance provided included

  1. collaboration in drafting a resume
  2. referral to an agency which in turn assisted them in attaining employment
  3. facilitating an interview with a company where they eventually were hired
  4. working closely with the individual to navigate online application processes

A second goal was to enhance the skill level of the volunteer job counselors who were already working at UMC. Four training events were held for our volunteer job counselors, all at the Main Library’s JHC.  The specific skills which were targeted as critical for volunteers included:

  • Familiarity with the names and contact information of the Job Help Center staff
  • Awareness of JHC policies and Main Library policies (especially service hours, requirements for a library card, and requirements for using the job-finding tools in the JHC)
  • Job-finding resources which the JHC has available, both through their website as well as on-site at the facility
  • Understanding of the intake processes of the partner agencies to which the computer lab most often refers clients.

The trainings were held on Mondays when the Main Library was closed, and the JHC could focus solely on training the volunteer job counselors.  Pre-tests and post-tests implemented during the final three trainings indicate that the knowledge and comfort levels among volunteer job counselors increased significantly in eight areas of job-finding expertise (increased number of “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” by 56% following the 2nd training and 38% following the final training).

A third goal was to collaborate with the JobWorks coordinator to provide resume building and online communications between employers and program participants. A major accomplishment of the grant effort was to become conversant with and supportive of the JobWorks volunteers, and to help them with their work in placing clients in appropriate positions. During the course of the grant, a total of 71 individuals were referred to JobWorks companies.  Many of the job assignments which clients received from these companies were temporary or part-time.    En route to helping the clients with job-finding, about 200 resumes were drafted or revised this year.

A fourth goal was to build partnerships with other agencies serving the homeless, and explore possibilities of offering library outreach services to the residents and clients of those agencies.  In contrast to the original intent of this objective, it was found to be more effective to refer some of the clients to these agencies for appropriate services.  The large number of individuals who desired job-finding assistance on site at UMC kept the schedule full, and did not allow the time to initiate outreach programming with these agencies.  The interaction with the agencies chiefly involved the referral of clients to the agencies for their services.  Bringing library services to these agencies in the future could be a strategy for a future grant effort.


A major benefit of the project is that the administration of the Urban Ministry Center sought out a VISTA volunteer position (Job Support Specialist) to continue the work done via the LSTA grant, and to grow the program through the upcoming year.  This effort will sustain the effort begun last year to acquire additional training for the volunteer job counselors by having them continue their relationship with the Job Help Center staff of the Library.  As a result of the work done by the LSTA job counselor, as well as the effort put forth by the VISTA volunteer in the current year, the UMC administration anticipates having ample input by August 2014 to allocate appropriate funds for future job-finding services on site at UMC.

Over the ten months that the grant was implemented at Urban Ministry, there were 1,310 individual, self-directed job-finding computer sessions conducted.  Individuals were allowed to stay on computers as long as they needed to in pursuing their employment goals.  The computer lab was open daily from 1:30PM to 4PM, so the maximum time available was 2.5 hours. Because of the LSTA funded position, the computer lab was able to extend its hours from two afternoons per week to five.  This facilitated many additional interactions between clients and job counselors which may not have occurred without LSTA funding.

Sample stories

 Carl: Came to the computer lab in late September seeking employment.  The LSTA job counselor apprised him of the application process for Custom Pallet, a company with which UMC’s JobWorks volunteers built a relationship.  The LSTA job counselor assisted in the application process.  Carl was called for an interview within days, began working in early October, and has maintained employment to date.

Steven: The LSTA job counselor assisted Steven in the computer lab in his effort to complete online job applications, and soon became aware of Family Dollar Corporation’s willingness to interview candidates from the homeless population. Steven’s resume was forwarded to them.  Steven was interviewed and offered an assistant manager position at one of the Family Dollar Stores; he has worked there from January through the present.


Is your library interested in increasing outreach to the homeless or replicating some of CML’s work? For more information about this project contact Jonita Edmonds, Main Library Manager of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library: jedmonds [at] cmlibrary [dot] org.


[1] Note that this is no longer an LSTA grant application category. 2014-2015 categories and descriptions can be found here.

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