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.
Shelter & housing
- When we are closed, these warming centers are open »
- Assisting someone seeking shelter in west suburban Cook County in English & Spanish (pdf) »
- Learn more about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in English & Spanish (pdf) »
- More from Housing Forward & the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition »
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
- Robert Simmons, Director of Social Services and Public Safety, 708.697.6910, RobertS@oppl.org
- Aaron Alonzo, Manager of Public Safety, AaronA@oppl.org
Finding resources in the library’s collection
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.
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.
Transitions people from housing crisis to housing stability, with a range of programs and services.
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.
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.
Uses prevention techniques, crisis intervention, restorative justice, therapeutic involvement, case management, and coordination of wraparound services by partnering with other community agencies.
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?
Joining a handful of public libraries with similar social services-based positions, including those in Evanston, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, our library hired Robert Simmons as its first social worker in February 2016. In this role, he has developed a team to provide services for the most vulnerable patrons, including those experiencing challenges such as homelessness and access to mental health support.
The decision to hire a social worker was a direct result of the library’s intentional strategy of listening and responding to community aspirations. It was also 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.
As part of this approach, the library replaced externally contracted security guards with dedicated library employees. So instead of a “monitor and remove” strategy, the library’s Public Safety Specialists are trained to take a trauma-informed care approach, engaging patrons with empathy to help connect them to community resources.
“Now, we can ask, ‘What’s going on with you?’ as opposed to ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Simmons said. “We’re prioritizing respect and dignity.”