Multi-District Workshop | Compendium

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness

homelessnessIn a series of two workshops, held on Thursday, May 17 and Friday, May 18, 2018, over 200 library staff attended The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness: Reduce Problems/Conflicts AND Be Inclusive. Ryan J. Dowd, founder of the Homeless Training Institute, was the presenter. The multi-district workshop was hosted by the Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia County Districts.

During this interactive training, attendees learned about practical tools and strategies for preventing or deescalating conflict and crisis and gained an understanding of the difference between “punishment-driven enforcement” and “empathy-driven enforcement”.

Dowd opened the workshop by providing attendees with a deeper understanding of homelessness and stressed that homeless individuals have a different culture and communication style from those who are middle class and those who are wealthy. These differences can make it harder for others to empathize with homeless individuals.

Through role-playing, videos, and real-life examples, Dowd demonstrated differences in speaking style, vocabulary, worldview, and triggers and gave reasons why they existed.

Dowd then moved on to explaining why typical punishments don’t work with homeless individuals and gave attendees a new paradigm for getting homeless individuals to comply with rules – what he calls “empathy-driven enforcement”.

This type of enforcement looks at how rules are enforced and stresses tools such as: 1) offer your name and ask the individual’s name; 2) offer a handshake; 3) be respectful; 4) pay attention to your body language and tone of voice; 5) understand where and how you should stand; and 8) make sure you practice reflective listening.

At the end of the session attendees asked questions about situations they had faced in their libraries and how they should resolve those should they arise in the future.

Library staff who want to reinforce what they learned in the workshops, or who were unable to attend the workshops, can sign up for an email newsletter at Dowd’s site: They can also read Dowd’s book, The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness, published by the American Library Association.

The workshop was made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.

submitted by:
Regina Fried
Marketing & PR Specialist
Bucks County Library District