Outdoor library services on Churchill Square set up for homeless

The Edmonton Public Library is taking some of its operations outside to give the city’s homeless a place to read books and magazines, use a laptop computer or participate in adult classes.

EPL on the Square launched 5 days after EXPO day shelter closed

Library services are being offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. (Nancy Carlson/CBC)

The Edmonton Public Library is taking some of its operations outside to give the city's homeless a place to read books and magazines, use a laptop computer or participate in adult classes.

Called EPL on the Square, the pilot project has three designated areas in Sir Winston Churchill Square for outdoor library services. 

The initiative, a collaboration between EPL and the City of Edmonton, was launched five days after the Edmonton EXPO Centre closed as a temporary drop-in day shelter. 

The city, social agencies and the province have been working on a plan to find hundreds of physically distanced spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic since the EXPO closed. 

On Friday, the province announced it would help Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed provide "select" day services in the interim. 

David Aitken, chair of the city's COVID-19 Task Team, called the pop-up library in Churchill Square an innovative project. 

"We will continue to work with our partners in supporting individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic," Aitken said in a news release Thursday. 

Chrissy Hodgins, EPL's director of branch services and community engagement, said the aim of the outdoor library is to fill some of the need but not all.

"We're not looking to replicate everything that happened at the EXPO Centre," she said. 

Hodgins said everyone is welcome at the outdoor library but EPL and the city expect that vulnerable or homeless Edmontonians will visit more often. 

"We know that there's a great deal of people that are walking through the square, so this is a great way to reach those individuals. It's certainly not about driving people from indoor spaces."

Downtown shelter agencies Boyle Street and Bissell Centre are helping to provide "resources and support." 
Edmonton public library director not sure how long the pop-up services will be available on Churchill Square. (Edmonton Public Library, City of Edmonton)

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, the library offers drop-in educational adult activities, including conversation circles, story times, book clubs and a clothing repair clinic, the release said. 

Churchill Square remains open to pedestrians, with signs and fencing to direct people through the library activities. 

Alberta Health Services approved the site, while the City and EPL ensure public health guidelines are followed, the release said. 

The pop-up library services also come a day after EPL reopened its 21 branches to the public with new restrictions. 

Earlier this week, the Alberta government announced $48 million to help provide 24-7 access to shelter facilities across the province where possible.


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