Shaw Library at 7th St NW, Washington DC. Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes/Flickr

The D.C. Public Library system reopened with some restrictions on July 22 as part of Phase Two of the District’s reopening plan. 

Thirteen library locations are now open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a daily break for cleaning from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Masks are required for all patrons, computer access is limited to 45 minutes per session, and requested books are available by pick-up only. 

[Read more: What does reopening DC look like for people experiencing homelessness?]

Public libraries are a safe haven for people experiencing homelessness in urban communities. They are a main source of computer and internet access for many, providing opportunities for  people to search for jobs and other information. Libraries can also provide shelter from harsh weather, a vital benefit  through this July’s severe summer storms.

The D.C. Public Library system has embraced its role as a safe space for homeless patrons in the past, in part by appointing its first health and human services coordinator, Jean Badalamenti, in 2014. 

Badalamenti organized a peer outreach program through which homeless patrons can seek support from specialists who have experienced homelessness themselves. According to Badalamenti, the specialists’ shared experience with the clients they serve makes them more effective.

Peer specialist sessions are currently available at three locations: the Benning, Woodbridge and Shaw branches. Appointments are recommended. Bathrooms are available on a first-come basis.

D.C.’s homeless population lost access to this and other crucial daytime services when libraries closed in March. 

Visit DCLibrary.org/reopen for the full list of libraries that have reopened.