Social Work Interns Tackle Community Needs

January 26, 2024

Students in Eastern’s School of Social Work are giving back to their community through a service-oriented internship with the Spokane Public Library.

The EWU interns work hands-on with unhoused library patrons who use the building for shelter, assessing their needs and connecting them to services. They also respond to more immediate concerns, including handing out jackets, distributing hand-warmers, and providing advice about long-term mental health services and housing stabilization.

“Half the individuals at our central location are in need of some sort of social services,” says Bethiah Streeter, the library’s social services manager. “Interns provide care coordination and collaborate to make sure that person isn’t falling through the cracks.”

Pictured from left to right are Mark E. Phillips, EWU intern; EWU alumna Bethiah Streeter, social services manager for Spokane Public Library; Sasha Farmer, EWU intern; and Hunter L. Rodgers, EWU intern.

During winter quarter, there are three EWU interns assigned to the library. There they comprise a sort of welcome-team, building rapport with patrons in need. Housed in the library’s resource studi0 – an on-site hub with a variety of readily available assistance assets – the interns also act as vital community liaisons, say library officials.

Amanda Donovan, director of marketing and communications at the library, says this form of service is something that fits with their mission, as the library has always been a place to go for information. “Accessibility to these resources is an extension of information,” she says.

When, during their first week on the job, a brutal cold snap sent temperatures plummeting, the Eagle interns found themselves on the front lines of a potential emergency.

“The library was filled with at least 100 unsheltered patrons who were trying to stay warm,” says intern Sasha Farmer, a social work graduate student who also serves professionally as a crisis clinician at Spokane’s Frontier Behavioral Health. “Some needed medical care from frostbite, while others needed transportation to shelter.”

The SPL team worked together to provide warm jackets and gloves, then connected those who needed it with medical attention. From there, the interns assisted in the often complicated logistics of securing shelter for those without housing.

“People from all fields and backgrounds came together,” Farmer says. “It was something I was proud to be part of.”

In addition to addressing acute needs, the social work team works proactively to provide “stabilization” services. They’ve now assisted 34 unhoused individuals in finding homes.

Streeter says that working with the interns has been “just fabulous.” Streeter is herself a graduate of the social work program at EWU. She says she’s proud to now act as a mentor to the next generation of social workers, providing them with hands-on experience in the field.

Now in its second year, the internship program provides EWU students with a unique opportunity. Because the program is still new and developing, the Spokane Public Library interns are shaping the program. Both undergraduate and graduate social work students can participate in this practicum opportunity, which is one of the best ways to prepare for their future careers.

“My experience at the Spokane Public Library has been life-changing,” says another EWU student-intern participant, Mark Phillips. “I have met patrons from different walks of life, and I am privy to some of their most remarkable stories.”

**Thank you to the Spokane Public Library for use of the photos.