Social Services

The library’s Social Services and Public Safety team ensures safety in the library and refers people to resources for mental health, housing, employment, health care, immigration, domestic violence, and more.

Holmes Elementary teacher Drew Finkbeiner and Oak Park Public Library's Robert Simmons shaking hands.

Shelter & housing

You also can contact Robert Simmons, Director of Social Services and Public Safety, 708.697.6910, RobertS@oppl.org.

Virtual mental health assessments with Rush University Medical Center

By virtual appointment, children and adults can receive free mental health assessments conducted by Rush University Medical Center psychologists. Please email Director Robert Simmons at RobertS@oppl.org to schedule a virtual mental health assessment via telehealth and virtual platforms.


How we serve

Libraries exist to help people find and connect with the information they need. Our Social Services and Public Safety team serves individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, and mental health and substance abuse disorders. The team connects people to information and resources such as advocacy and service referrals for housing, employment, health care, immigration, domestic violence, and more. Read more »

Meet our team

Finding resources in the library’s collection

Libraries also are big supporters of confidentiality of circulation records, data privacy, and empowering every voice. No matter your age, you can check out books from any floor of the library.

Click here to review a short list of where to find library materials related to mental health and wellness »


How we collaborate: Key partnerships

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extreme social isolation among the most vulnerable populations in our community. It has also challenged social service providers to create innovative strategies to deliver much- needed resources and programs to these community members.

The library’s Social Services team has been very intentional about leveraging partnerships to ensure that people have access to services such as mental health support, housing, and employment during this extraordinary time.

The team collaborates and maintains relationships with more than 40 organizations throughout the entire Chicago area, connecting people to the services and resources they need. Here are some key partners and resources in the Oak Park area.

Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township

Assists in planning, developing, coordinating, evaluating, and funding mental health services in Oak Park.

Maintains the Health Connection Hub, a resource for finding local services for individuals and families, including: senior and youth services, developmental disabilities, medical health care, behavioral/mental health services, and other social support.

Housing Forward

Transitions people from housing crisis to housing stability, with a range of programs and services.

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

We are now in our second year of working with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine on a five-year grant in which an app is being built to help teens manage anxiety.

Dr. Ashley A. Knapp of Northwestern has conducted interviews with teens and library staff, adult and teen advisory boards have been created, and we are moving into the design stage of the project in fall 2021. We are looking forward to inviting more teens to participate in the design stage of app development.

Oak Park Homelessness Coalition

A collaboration of 50+ local organizations and individuals working to end homelessness in Oak Park, including representatives from local businesses, government, healthcare, faith-based groups, school districts, nonprofits, and service agencies. The group’s primary goal is to make homelessness brief, rare, and one-time in Oak Park.

Library Executive Director David J. Seleb and Director of Social Services Robert Simmons participate as Core Members. Simmons also co-chairs the Career Pathways workgroup, which focuses on coordinating job readiness and job placement throughout the community. Our Adult Education and Career Services Librarian Rashmi Swain provides integral support to the Career Pathways workgroup as well.

Oak Park Township Youth Services

Uses prevention techniques, crisis intervention, restorative justice, therapeutic involvement, case management, and coordination of wraparound services by partnering with other community agencies.

Rush University Medical Center

Since October 2019, the Social Services team has offered free mental health assessments and therapy through a partnership with Rush University Medical Center. When the COVID-10 pandemic emerged in spring 2020, Director of Social Services Robert Simmons worked with Rush clinicians to quickly pivot to offering virtual services to patrons.

We have continued to provide virtual services in 2021. As of August, 22 people have received free mental health assessments in 2021, and nine have received free, short-term teletherapy support from a Rush clinician. 

Community partners such as Oak Park Township Youth Services and New Moms have referred their clients to the clinic and have reported that their clients have benefitted from this resource, as mental health needs have sharply risen during the pandemic.


Why have a social worker at a library?

Robert Simmons joined the library in 2016 as its first social worker, a direct result of the library’s intentional strategy of listening and responding to community aspirations. Since then, the Social Services and Public Safety team has served hundreds of vulnerable patrons. Most are Oak Park residents experiencing mental illness, homelessness, and extreme poverty.

The decision to hire a social worker was part of rethinking how we engage with all patrons, “including those who are vulnerable, marginalized, or at-risk, who use our facilities on a daily basis, and for whom we should be providing services,” said Executive Director David J. Seleb.

It was also part of a growing trend for public libraries, including those in Evanston, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. “Around the nation, public libraries have become de facto community health centers for people who don’t have access to other resources,” Simmons said.

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