Winnipeg library adds crisis worker to help with social assistance programs

The Winnipeg Public Library has hired a second full-time community crisis worker, six years after it started the program to help visitors in need.

Expansion of social assistance program takes advantage of libraries as a 'natural hub'

Bruce Fiske has been helping Winnipeggers down on their luck for the past six years out of the Millennium Library. (Ahmar Khan/CBC News)

The Winnipeg Public Library has hired a second full-time community crisis worker, six years after it started the program to help visitors in need. 

Bruce Fiske, who has served as the sole community crisis worker since 2012, says the addition will pay dividends to the quality of help that the library can deliver to those living with mental health issues or in need of housing. 

The library hired Sheila Bughao to join its social assistance program in September.

"I have someone to consult with," said Fiske. "She has a different background than I do and I can draw on those skills that she has."

Fiske says demand remains steady for people in search of social assistance programs and having one more person will allow the library to handle issues better.

"It's extra time per person, and so you have people who have an option to see a female social worker, as well." 

Evolving role

Over the years, libraries across the country have taken a step forward technologically, and for Fiske it made sense to also evolve on the social front since the space is a "natural hub" for many.

"There's no stigma attached to coming through the library for all walks of life," said Fiske. "People come here and they feel comfortable."

Management saw the changing landscape and hired Fiske as the first community crisis worker six years ago when demand increased.

"When it first started, I think the library had a concern regarding perceptions of safety in the library and some of the issues that were coming to the reception desk of the librarians were a little bit beyond their scope," he said.

Most days, Fiske and Bughao are based out of the Millennium Library, which sees about 5,000 daily visitors on average. 

While only five to 15 of them seek help on any given day, Fiske believes helping them get where they need to be takes time.

"If I can help them connect the dots, that's great. Then it's just sort of, 'Please come back and let me know how things are going,'" said Fiske. "My goal is just to make sure that continues to happen."

Many visitors are looking for housing, trying to find jobs or just looking for information about what resources are available.

Despite libraries often being thought of as a quiet beacons of information, Fiske says there is no better place than to provide answers.


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