Denver Public Library wants to help people understand what it’s like to be homeless

The Denver Public Library is hosting an “empathy project” July 16 to help housed library patrons better understand what it’s like to be homeless.
3 min. read

A woman walks past a homeless man in downtown Denver. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Public libraries often end up serving as de facto day shelters for homeless people, and Denver's downtown library is no exception. The Denver Public Library is hosting an "empathy project" July 16 to help housed library patrons better understand what it's like to be homeless.

"Certainly a lot of our customers are experiencing poverty and homelessness, and we respect all our customers, and we want them to respect each other," said Brenda Ritenour, Denver Public Library's community engagement manager.

In the last year, the library has brought on two social workers to help homeless library patrons get services they need. Those social workers helped develop the events scheduled for next weekend, which include a "care fair" for homeless people to talk to service providers and non-homeless people to learn about opportunities to volunteer.

Events run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first floor of the Central Library, 10 W. 14th Ave., and are free and open to the public.

  • Outside Looking In: A Life in Cardboard. Participants can create a cardboard sign that describes a difficult time in their life or that offers encouragement to others. These signs will be on display in the Denver Central Library.
  • The Living Room: Care Fair. Community organizations will be on hand to help homeless customers find resources like shelter, job assistance, identification cards, birth certificates and more. The library’s social workers will be on hand to talk directly with homeless customers in need. People can also learn about volunteer opportunities. The fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Road Trip: Walk With Me. Lighthouse Writers Workshop volunteers will take a group of attendees to the History Colorado Center to see the exhibit Searching for Home. Afterward, the group will go back to the library and write about their experiences. The walk to the museum leaves at 11:30 a.m., and the writing workshop starts at 1 p.m.
  • The Family Room: Home Sweet Homelessness. This board game allows players to experience the challenges of life on the streets in a way that increases understanding and builds bridges. Each play station will be hosted by a player who has recently moved out of homelessness. This event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • The Kitchen: Family Style Dinner. A free meal will be served at 3 p.m.

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