A Group Of Teens Wants To Use Libraries And Art To Help Unhoused Young People
Public libraries are among the main places of refuge for unhoused people. A group of teenagers at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Silver Lake and Echo Park branches are teaming up to help provide a sense of normalcy to young people who are unhoused or housing insecure by creating art and giving them a place to hang out with their peers.
Malia, a 15-year-old sophomore, said her group, Teens Leading Change, wanted to learn about different aspects of homelessness in L.A.
“As we met with more people who work in the field…eventually we thought we wanted to help out our peers who are experiencing homelessness,” Malia said. “We thought about the mental health aspect because that’s important, besides finding a home of course.”
The group decided art would be a good outlet to support mental health so they started buying art supplies, creating informational guides with additional resources and planning a food menu. They plan to host an event on Saturday, April 23, where they will hand out sketch pads, markers and paint. Tables will be set up where the teens can engage in free creative expression.
The Teens Leading Change initiative is a joint effort of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library. It’s open to high school students who develop civic action projects in their communities. The event for the Silver Lake and Echo Park branches illustrates how libraries can become more than a shelter and turn into an access point for unhoused people to get service and find community.
“The library is a really great resource for those experiencing homelessness and we know a lot of [unhoused] people come here anyway to find services,” Malia said. “Since we’re here already then we thought this would be a great way to help.”
The Los Angeles Public Library is already exploring ways it can expand to become a critical partner in addressing the region’s homelessness crisis on a larger scale. One way would be adding staff dedicated to connecting unhoused people to services.
According to a 2020 count of unhoused people by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were nearly 12,000 people under the age of 24 experiencing homelessness. But young unhoused people aren’t usually centered in conversations about homelessness, said Heather Carmichael, executive director of My Friend’s Place, a nonprofit that works with unhoused youth.
Carmichael previously told LAist there needs to be more attention to the systems currently in place that cause young people to fall into homelessness, like foster care and juvenile delinquency. She also wanted more conversation surrounding why Black, queer, and transgender people are overrepresented in the unhoused population.
Rae McBride, a librarian at the Echo Park Branch library, said her role is to support the projects the teens come up with.
“They chose the housing crisis,” McBride said. “They see it in their neighborhood. In Echo Park especially there has been a lot of tumultuous events happening around the lake. These teens grew up in the neighborhood. They walk around and they see it happening so they decided this is something they wanted to focus on.”
McBride said the program was a great idea because it gives young people experiencing homelessness a sense of normalcy who get to hang out with other teens their age and create art together.