This kit is intended to be a starting point for libraries to reach and support those without stable housing within their communities. It includes several books for both adults and children, activities and programs for those experiencing homelessness including sharing their story, engaging and dialoguing with the community, and receiving resource lists and information about local services.

There are also several homeless simulation activities, including a game for those who have never experienced homelessness. Learn new ideas for starting a related works book club events and story time events to help discuss the topic of homelessness with children, teens and anyone in your community.

Also included in the kit are resources for the library staff to review best practices for serving the homeless. Key to this kit are resources to help your library convene a community conversation.


People Experiencing Homelessness

Programs and activities for those experiencing homelessness including telling their story, dialoguing with the community, and receiving resource lists and information about local services.

People Learning About Homelessness

  • Participate in a facilitated homeless simulation game.
  • Take part in a community conversation.
  • Create Care Kits for distribution to people who are homeless.
  • Participate in a book club event to read related works and discuss with others.

People who were formerly incarcerated

Programs and activities for those transitioning from incarceration to your community, including telling their story, dialoguing with the community, and receiving resource lists and information about local assistance services.

We have also included books in this kit that represent the kind of materials that libraries should consider including in their collections that supply valuable reentry information for formerly incarcerated people. 

  • The Ex-Offender’s Guides including:
  • The Ex-Offender’s Job Interview Guide
  • The Ex-Offender’s Reentry Success Guide
  • The Ex-Offender’s Quick Job Hunting Guide
  • The Ex-Offender’s New Job Finding  & Survival Guide
  • Best Jobs for Ex-Offenders
  • Jails to Jobs : Seven Steps to Becoming Employed 
  • Overcoming Barriers to Employment Success : The Key to Getting and Keeping a Job 

People learning about the experience of transitioning from prison or jail to community

  • Participate in a facilitated transition simulation game
  • Take part in a community conversation
  • Create Transition Kits for distribution to people who were recently released from prison or jail
  • Participate in a book club event to read and discuss issue-related works
  • Participate in a discussion of an issue-related video.

We have also included books in this kit that could be part of a community conversation or can provide deeper discussion topics for these issues and represent the kind of materials that libraries can include in their collections.

Books focused on current policy and its impact:

  • The Ex-Prisoner’s Dilemma by Andrea M. Leverentz 
  • On the Outside by David J. Harding
  • Convicted and Condemned by Keesha Middlemass
  • Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Homeword by Bruce Western
  • The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr

First-person narratives from justice-involved people about their experiences 

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Becoming Ms. Burton by Cari Lynn and Susan Burton
  • Out of Orange by Clearly Wolters
  • The Upside of Fear by Weldon Long
  • American Prison by Shane Bauer

Internal staff

Learn how to create an environment that feels welcoming, informative, and supportive, including ideas for reducing policy barriers. Learn how to host conversations that explore public perceptions, help to debunk myths around incarceration, and strengthen community ties. Library staff can

  • participate in a facilitated transition simulation game 
  • review best practices for serving the formerly incarcerated
  • establish partnerships with community service providers
  • research local services for people who need them
  • create resource lists and maps for takeaway
  • organize, promote and facilitate a community conversation
  • organize and facilitate a book club event to read and discuss issue-related works
  • organize and facilitate discussion of an issue-related video.

Resource Kit

Admin Stuff:

  • Kit red binder with information and activities.
  • Red key-shaped USB “flash” drive (contains electronic versions of the kit contents were appropriate).
  • The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness: An Empathy-Driven Approach to solving problems… A book to help staff work with patrons experiencing homelessness more effectively.
  • Compassionate Tools for Reducing Problem. (Laminated). A quick guide for staff when working with chronically homeless individuals.
  • Buttons for staff.  Please keep and share.
  • Clipboard with evaluation form to complete (we really want your feedback).

Activity Props:

  • Simulation Activity:  Home Sweet Homelessness game in “pizza” box for organized game play with patrons in the library.
    • Home Sweet Homelessness game white binder
    • Plastic zip top bag with game pieces
  • Care Kit Creation Activity:
    • Laminated care kit creation activity sheet
    • Sample care kit
  • Tell Your Story Activity:
    • Laminated StoryCorp guide sheets for audio recording guidance
  • Book Club discussion Activity:
    • CSL Book Club suggestion – Crenshaw (book)
  • Storytime Activity:
    • Fly Away Home (book)

Sample books for possible inclusion in your collection:

  • Sample books Children’s books for patrons.
    • A Shelter in Our Car
    • Maddi’s Fridge
    • Lilly and the Paper Man
    • Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen
    • The Lunch Thief
  • Sample books for adult patrons
    • Tell Them Who I am:  The Lives of Homeless Women
    • Evicted:  Poverty and Profit and the American City

Community Conversation Tools:

Fostering Dialog – Access the divide (spiral bound manual) providing step by step guidelines on facilitating large, potential controversial conversations with community members.


Webinar: Effective Responses to Homeless Issues

Originally presented September 8, 2016
“The challenges surrounding homelessness can seem overwhelming. The homeless people taking refuge in your library have intractable problems, maybe mental illness, maybe an addiction… Homelessness itself has deep societal causes ranging from affordable housing to income disparity… What can a library possibly do, right? Actually, a lot.”

Interview with Catherine

Catherine was an RN. Because of a bad marriage and lack of jobs, she found herself trying to survive on welfare. GR, or general relief, barely pays for food much less housing, so she ended up in a homeless shelter.

Best Practices for Conducting an Interview

Frontline Documentary

Frontline – Poor Kids (2017)
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/poor-kids – Nov. 22, 2017 (54:37 minutes) SEASON 30: EPISODE 24
Through the stories of three families told over the course of half a decade, FRONTLINE explores what poverty means to children in America

Association for Rural & Small Libraries Webinar

Homelessness in Small and Rural Communities: Libraries Can Help!
A webinar hosted in collaboration with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) on how small or rural libraries can provide services to community members experiencing homelessness, especially with limited access to resources, like a social worker.


Books – Children

Shoebox Sam by Mary Brigid Barrett. 2011. Grades 1–4.
Delia and Jessie spend Saturdays with Shoebox Sam, who teaches them about making old shoes new again and helping those in need.

*The Lunch Thief by Anne C. Bromley. 2010. Grades 1-4.
Rafael notices the new kid stealing lunches (including his), and uses his mom’s advice to use his voice & not his fists to resolve the problem.

December by Eve Bunting. 1997. Grades 1–4.
Simon and his mom live in the tiny cardboard house they’ve built for themselves. On Christmas Eve they don’t have much, but it’s more than the woman who comes knocking on their door has. Does their generosity bring them a miracle?

*A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning. 2004. Grades K–3.
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.

Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne. 2005. Grades 1–4.
Haitian street children band together and work to create a life for themselves.

The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern. 1997. Grades K–4.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.

I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco. 1999. Grades 2–5.
A boy without a real home, Fondo feels lonely and unwanted. Then he meets Stephanie Michele, who takes care of the waterfowl at the pond and shares his sensitivity for nature. She teaches him how to help take care of the geese, especially one with special needs. When Fondo finds out he’s to be taken away, he looks to the geese for a miracle.

*The Can Man by Laura E. Williams. 2010. Grades 2–5.
Tim’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, but he really wants a skateboard for his birthday. When he sees Mr. Peters, “The Can Man,” who is homeless, collecting cans, Tim gets the idea to collect enough cans to pay for his skateboard, even though that means Mr. Peters gets less … it’s only until Tim’s birthday, after all. Tim really wants that skateboard, but a couple of encounters with Mr. Peters give him pause about what to do with the money he’s earned.

Books – Adult

*Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. 2016.
Chronicling the experiences shared by eight families in Milwaukee, Matthew Desmond shows the ways in which every day Americans struggle to pay rent. Facing the reality that the majority of poor renters devote over half of their income to housing, Desmond exposes the desperate means by which these families struggle to avoid eviction while also eking out a life of dignity. While Desmond captures strong personal stories, Eviction is backed up by years of deliberate research and fieldwork. Offering solutions as well, Desmond drives home the fact that it’s almost impossible to combat other social problems without first addressing the issue of affordable housing.

*Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Elliot Liebow. 1993.
Through this searing study of women in homeless shelters, Elliott Leibow disabuses us of the myth that the homeless are generally lazy and disinterested in altering their condition. Tell Them Who I Am places the reader squarely in the shoes of the inhabitants of a Washington, D.C. homeless shelter for women. Walking the reader through a day in the life of a homeless person, hour by hour, Liebow presents the obstacles placed in front of women who ache to regain the dignity they once possessed.

Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America by Jonathan Kozol. 1988.
As one of America’s foremost education scholars, Jonathan Kozol (known for Death at an Early Age and Savage Inequalities) also recognizes the challenges that homelessness brings to bear on American families. This 1988 title remains sadly relevant almost thirty years later. Pulling from his months he spent interacting with homeless men, women, and children, Kozol paints a stark portrait of life on the streets. The immediacy of his writing brings an unflinching eye to the issue of homelessness as a nightmare that cannot be ignored.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. 2005.
This 2005 memoir (which went on to be adapted into the 2012 film “Being Flynn” starring Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore, and Paul Dano) offers another look at the personal fallout surrounding the epidemic of homelessness. Working in Boston as a caseworker at a shelter, Nick Flynn met his father for the first time. Throughout his life, he’d periodically receive letters from his absent father — a poet, but also a con artist who’d served time in a federal prison for bank robbery — yet this odd twist of fate brought these two men together. This sensitive, honest, and darkly funny book provides a humane and hellish look at the ways in which people fall through the cracks, affecting their families as well as themselves.

Street People and the Contested Realms of Public Space by Randall Amster. 2004
The author examines the loss of public space as a consequence of increasing commercialization and privatization, resulting in the criminalization of homelessness, such as by the enactment of anti-homeless ordinances and regulations.

Other Booklists on this topic

Carnegie Library Staff Picks about Homelessness

Pragmatic Mom’s Children’s Books about Homelessness

What Do We Do All Day: Picture Books about Poverty, Homelessness and Hunger

The Booklist Reader – The Booklist reader was created by Booklist Publications and the American Library Association

Doing Good Together – Chapter Books on Homelessness

Reading For Empathy

Website about homelessness

Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness
Ryan Dowd’s website for library staff. Includes quick tips, an opportunity to purchase a course for all staff, and information on his book.

Spent is an interactive game that challenges you to manage your money, raise a child and make it through the month getting paid minimum wage after a stretch of unemployment.

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

National Alliance to End Homelessness
The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to end homelessness in the United States. We use research and data to find solutions to homelessness; we work with federal and local partners to create a solid base of policy and resources that support those solutions, and then we help communities implement them.

The Denver VOICE
The Denver VOICE is an award-winning publication, a member of the International Network of Street Papers and the Colorado Press Association. Their mission is to facilitate a dialogue addressing the roots of homelessness by telling stories of people whose lives are impacted by poverty and homelessness and to offer economic, educational, and empowerment opportunities for the impoverished community.

Hunger Free Colorado
Hunger Free Colorado connects families and individuals to food resources. They have services to increase access and a hotline referral program

2-1-1 Colorado
Statewide database of local community resources. 2-1-1 Colorado helps Colorado citizens connect with the services they need. Whether by phone or internet, 2-1-1 Colorado’s goal is to present accurate, well-organized and easy-to-find information from state and local health and human services programs. No matter where you live in Colorado, you can find information about resources like food or housing, child care, crisis counseling or substance abuse treatment in your local community.

Office of Homeless Initiatives
Working in partnership with local, state and federal stakeholders to build, promote and support collaborative approaches to connect Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens with housing and services.

Homeless Shelter Directory
Database directory of Colorado Homeless Shelters along with other homeless resources. Provides listings for affordable, transitional housing, clinics and low-cost affordable treatment centers.

Office of Homeless Youth Services (OHYS)
Provides information, coordination, and support services for infrastructure around homeless youth resources in Colorado.

Websites about Community Conversations

Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries provides access to an online community working together to address the transformation of public libraries in the digital age. Access the Action Guide, Version 2.0. Organized into three main modules—a Learning Pathway, Leading Pathway, and Implementing Pathway—to enable library and community professionals to commit to focusing on a specific set of objectives—one pathway at a time.

Harwood Institute
The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.

Public Conversations – Essential Partners
Essential Partners has worked for more than 25 years to facilitate conversations and equip people for difficult conversations. Their goal is to foster constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs & values. They created the Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide from the Public Conversations Project book.

Everyday Democracy: Ideas & Tools for Community Change
Everyday Democracy helps people and organizations build capacity to engage communities in creating change. They created the guidebook Organizing Community-Wide Dialogue for Action & Change Everyday Democracy

The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. They created the guidebook Café to Go! A Quick Reference Guide for Putting Conversations to Work, World Café

At The Table Colorado
At the Table Colorado (ATTC) brings people from all walks of life together, during the same week, to participate in a series of free community-wide conversations about what makes their neighborhoods/communities/regions great and what can be done to make them even better

The Homeless: 39 Questions for Your Reflection
Questions you can use in different activities and conversations.


Top 10 Things Every Library Employee Should Know About Homeless Patrons
Quick tips for librarians.

The State of Homelessness in America
The State of Homelessness in America 2016 is the sixth in a series of reports charting progress in ending homelessness in the United States. It is intended to serve as a desktop reference for policymakers, journalists, and community and state leaders.

National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation’s Resource Guide on Public Engagement
Guide to having dialogue in a public forum. Includes descriptions of various public engagement techniques and resources to get you started.

Fostering Dialogue Across Divides: A Nuts and Bolts Guide From Essential Partners
This guide shares general advice as well as very specific nuts and bolts tips for those who wish to convene, plan, and facilitate constructive conversations on deeply divisive issues.

Libraries Transform Communities: Community Conversation Workbook
This guide was created by the Harwood Institute and the American Library Association. It covers planning, setting expectations, and the responsibilities of an effective conversation leader.

5 Steps to Recording Your STORYCORPS App Interview
Tips to help you record a story or interview. Good to use with the Tell Your Story activity

Care Kit Infographic
Visual guide for creating Care Kits. Good for use advertising and preparing for the Making Care Kits activity.


Community Resource Worksheet – Template (DOCX)

Feedback Form (DOCX)