Leah Esguerra screenshot PBS NewsHour

People can check out a lot more than books at the San Francisco Public Library — they can find housing and mental health care, too.

The California library became the first in the U.S. to hire a social worker with a mental health care background–and since 2009 she’s provided services for 800 homeless patrons.

Best of all, social worker Leah Esguerra has found permanent housing for more than 150.

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About 5,000 people visit the San Francisco library every day — 750 of those are homeless. For many, it’s their only shelter during the day, and it also makes it a perfect hub to reach out to the homeless.

“It’s always easier to do outreach on the streets, that’s neutral ground,” she told PBS NewsHour. “But here [in the library], it’s their sanctuary. I have to be respectful.”

She provides clinical assessments and directs homeless people to shelter and services that can help any who need it.

Esquerra’s program has become so successful, the library has hired and trained three formerly homeless people to assist her as “health and safety associates.” After a 12-week vocational training program, they work part-time for $12 an hour, helping identify homeless patrons who may need help.

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Another sign of success: since it started nearly seven years ago, at least 24 other public library systems around the U.S. have launched similar programs.

The Dallas, Texas library has a peer-counseling program for homeless patrons, Queens Public Library in New York City has a phone app that connects the homeless with emergency shelter in their buildings, and nurses stroll through 27 libraries buildings in the Tucson, Arizona area library system looking for people who need medical attention.

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But Leah is best known in the local neighborhoods where she has become so familiar to the homeless who visit the library, they often shout out to “The Library Lady” when she’s walking down the street.

(WATCH the video below from PBS NewsHour or READ more at CityLab) — Photos: PBS video

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