In a heat wave, libraries offering the homeless more than just air-conditioning

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Los Angeles libraries are expecting an increase in homeless visitors during the heat wave hitting the Southland this weekend and lasting at least through Friday. 

Because the homeless are vulnerable if they lack adequate shelter, the Pasadena Fire Department said those on the streets pose a particular concern when temperatures rise into the hundreds. But Lisa Derderian, the department's public information officer, said the homeless are welcome into area libraries and other cooling centers.

"They're part of our community," she said. 

Staffers at the Pasadena Public Library have had homeless patrons for as long as they can remember, and they would always do what they could to help, said Catherine Hany, Pasadena library's spokeswoman.

"We knew who to call first for situations and referrals. We would follow up on our resources, but we just didn’t have the background [to help the homeless]," she said.

As homeless numbers have increased and finding themselves on the frontline of serving this population, the library took the step two months ago of hiring case manager Precious Jackson. 

“My role is to talk to the patrons in a library particularly those who are homeless and link them into services if they are open to going into services and receiving help," Jackson said.  "I work with 5 to 8 [homeless] people a day.”

She said she's been focusing on establishing connections with the homeless. "I feel that it gives them a level of comfort that when they are ready that they can come to me," she said. So far, she said, she's helped one person get housing.

Hany said the case manager position was originally funded by a grant but now is covered in the library budget. 

Serving the homeless is at times challenging for the library. Hany said some patrons complain about the homeless "bathing in the restrooms." She hopes the city of  Pasadena can help address the problem and some day help provide showers for those who need them.

A library in San Francisco claims to have hired the first homeless case manager but many libraries are finding ways to help the homeless, according to the American Library Association. Services range from providing information on homeless services to offering classes on job interviewing. 

Cooling centers will be available throughout Los Angeles County for the duration of the heat wave, but helping the homeless does not have an end point for the library.

"Our role is the same as it is for every individual that comes in,"  Hany said. "We're there to provide services." 

This story has been updated.

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