Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Hidden alongside the shelves at the Medicine Hat Public Library, visitors may be surprised to find an unexpected resource in an on-staff social worker.
Tiersa Dowler is nearing her one-year anniversary at the Medicine Hat Public Library, where she spends her days speaking with people in need of assistance navigating resources available to them, from government programming to support with resumes or their mental health.
“Like, where typical agencies you might see, for example, Bridges sees families and, and people with young children, and they see the whole lifespan, but you might think that if you have a certain issue, you can’t go there,” said Dowler. “The library sees people from everywhere. Nobody knows why you would go into a library. Well, we know why people go into libraries. But nobody can identify that you’re going to get help for this. So it’s really not a stigmatized location. And so I get to meet people who are from zero to 99, who maybe don’t need a social worker, case manager, but just need a touch point of, hey, I’m filling out these forms, how do I do it. So it’s really accessible.”
Dowler refers to herself as being a “jack of all trades,” and said that she often begins her day by greeting everyone in the library when she doesn’t have appointments already waiting.
“It’s mostly first come first serve, or as I greet people, I see what’s going on and how I can help. It kind of ranges in there, but I’ve made some really good connections where someone who is experiencing homelessness comes in just to check in and have a friendly chat. Or maybe borrow my phone to call a family member to pick them up, or that they need a ride here. And then it kind of goes into just walking around the library and meeting up with people who, you know, just need a friendly face,” said Dowler.
Much of her work is helping people with various forms they may need help with, such as Survivor’s Pension following the death of a family member, or looking to fill out forms for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, or AISH, which Dowler notes can be quite daunting.
“I really come from that, you know, what, what isn’t working? What is working? Where can we go from there? So a lot of service access, a lot of navigating that. And navigating systems,” said Dowler. “I used to have snacks. I usually try and keep a few just for people who haven’t eaten for a few days for people who, who maybe just need a snack.”
While Dowler acknowledges there is a stigma surrounding needing help from social workers, she finds that she’s often quite busy, both with appointments and those just dropping in need of guidance, and some days require a sort of triage to determine who needs her immediate assistance and who can wait.
Even with this busy workload, Dowler remains positive and passionate about her work, however.
“I honestly love it. It keeps me on my toes constantly. And, you know, there’s people who come in, and I’m like, Oh, I know exactly what forms we need to upload, or how to fill it out. One of the biggest barriers I’ve had for a lot of people is that forms are super daunting. And figuring out services, navigating services is even harder, because there can be this thought process of like, well, somebody else needs it more, somebody else deserves it more. I tell people to take that out of their vocabulary,” said Dowler. “I don’t care what anybody else is doing. What’s going on for you? And how can we meet your needs?”