At Broome County Public Library, those struggling with mental health can find peer support

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The Broome County Public Library. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—Iris Niles has known first-hand what it is like to navigate Broome County’s mental health resources.

“Catholic Charities, clearly, has helped us the most I think,” she said. “The Binghamton General Hospital, and then there’s outpatient services that are ongoing.”

Now, Niles will help others get treatment and other services. Catholic Charities of Broome County trained her to work as a peer counselor at the Broome County Public Library.

The library is piloting a peer counseling program focused on mental health as part of an effort to address the needs of its patrons creatively, and through community partnerships.

Josias Bartram, the library’s executive director, said because the library is free to all, it has become a safe space for vulnerable community members.

“That includes our residents who are struggling with mental health, with homelessness and with addiction,” Bartram said during a media conference Tuesday. “The purpose of this program is to find a way to better serve these patrons so that we’re not just serving as a shelter for them, but also we are providing services.”

Counselors will also help residents find housing and food—anything to meet their basic needs, and without judgment, Niles said.

The library and Catholic Charities have overseen the program, with funding provided by the Klee Foundation. A $75,000 grant from the foundation, as well as $15,000 from the library’s operating budget, will contribute to the salaries of Niles and another peer counselor.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Lori Accardi said there has been a demand for programs led by peers who have also experienced mental illness.

“If you have experienced mental illness, having someone else talk with you, who has been through that, who’s experienced those symptoms, is immeasurably valuable,” Accardi said. “You won’t find the same thing in a treatment program.”

Catholic Charities has trained library staff and security to identify residents who they think could benefit from the program. Any resident can drop in for assistance.

Counselors will be available six days a week in the library’s public lounge, located at the front of the building.