Salt Lake City’s downtown library’s new social worker has helped thousands

A public library is one of the last free places a person can go, and that means They often attract people who cannot afford to go anywhere else.

That doesn’t mean that libraries are always well-equipped to help visitors. And in recent years, Salt Lake City Public Library staff have begun to notice this gap.

This is where Nicole Campolucci comes in.

The library hired Campolucci in December as its first licensed clinical social worker with the official designation of “social services coordinator.” Their job is to assess what library users – especially those who are homeless or who have other psychosocial needs – want and need, as well as what the staff needs, and to help them get them.

So far it has made a difference.

In the past three months, the library has served 2,144 people, up from 1,170 in the previous three months, Campolucci said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nicole Campolucci, right, helps a woman affected by homelessness with her Section 8 housing records at the Salt Lake City Library, June 12, 2023. Campolucci is a licensed clinical social worker and assists To connect people in need of homelessness with available resources.

These services can look like a pair of socks, or Help someone get a new ID or bus voucher or apply for food stamps. It could also involve suicide intervention or crisis de-escalation, which Campolucci says happens “quite often.”

The increase in the services offered came after Campolucci redesigned a space near the library entrance known as the “Resource Corner”. For years, Volunteers of America was the only group using the space cordoned off near the entrance with posts, signs, and shelves for informational brochures.

However, while Volunteers of America is on site every weekday, they can only help people affected by homelessness, and the volunteers do not serve the area full-time.

Campolucci brought in eight other vendors, including the Asian Association of Utah, The Road Home, Odyssey House, Valley Behavioral Health, and the Department of Workforce Services, who rotate in and out of the premises on designated days of the week.

These other groups may provide services to a broader group of people with mental health needs, such as those with substance abuse disorders or those experiencing domestic violence.

Through the Odyssey House partnership, 20 people have undergone detoxification and substance abuse treatment since February, and 35 people have been connected to a mental health provider through Valley Behavioral Health since April, Campolucci said.

Before joining the library, Campolucci was clinical services director at Valley Behavioral Health, working in the Children, Adolescents and Families Division.

“It wasn’t really my thing, though,” she said. Campolucci said she misses the work she previously did at the University of Utah Health and Volunteers of America — working with people with mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as people experiencing homelessness.

“I just like working with people that others seem to have forgotten or don’t want to be associated with,” she said.

Erin Mendoza, co-chair of the library’s social council, said that having a social worker onboard has given library staff insights into how best to serve library users when their needs extend beyond borrowing a book or telescope.

“We always try to do our best for the people,” Mendoza said. “But sometimes it’s hard to know if that’s a good boundary? Is this possible? Are we not doing enough?”

Campolucci usually knows those answers, Mendoza said. She has also helped library staff prioritize self-care — something Mendoza said is especially important for staff post-pandemic, as the needs of some users have increased and others are more often in a “elevated state” of emotion and tend to be tend to endure frustrations on staff.

Mendoza said after the pandemic and the demolition of the downtown Road Home shelter, “It has fundamentally changed the dynamic of how this downtown community is able to exist.”

“I don’t even know if it’s necessarily more people. But in some cases, it feels like the situations people are in are more extreme or that their behavior has become more extreme,” she said. “A lot of mental illnesses go untreated, things like that.”

This is precisely why Campolucci believes her role is so important, even if other library users sometimes don’t understand or feel uncomfortable about the library being a resource for the homeless.

Camplucci says she and other employees tried to explain that their mission is to provide “equal access for all.”

Beginning in July, Campolucci will open her own resource corner consultation hours and offer direct services to people once the program is established.

Mendoza said afterwards that Campolucci would look at other ways the library could provide services, such as through a peer navigator program or working with universities to offer internships for people pursuing social work training.

Justin Scaccy

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