Downtown Ambassador Program
Cedar Rapids Public Library, Iowa
The library partnered with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and local agencies to hire people who currently live or recently lived in a shelter to act as a connector between many of the homeless or transient population and prevent potential conflict from occurring, therefore improving the security and cleanliness of the downtown area surrounding the library.
The City of Cedar Rapids faced growing violence in the downtown area after completion of both the Downtown Library and Greene Square in 2013 and 2016. In 2019, a pilot program brought Downtown Ambassadors to the area. These ambassadors come from the community we serve and are largely connected to people in the area. The ambassadors walk in the downtown area, talking to people and building relationships. They hope this program will reduce number of calls to the police, improve cleanliness and build trust.
Key Elements of Innovation
The program is a partnership between the library, Cedar Rapids Police Department, Parks and Recreation, Ground Transportation, Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance and the local shelter. The program is designed to employ current or formerly homeless individuals to work in shifts throughout a specified downtown area, building relationships and maintaining the integrity of our community. They help deescalate arguments, remind people of the rules and act as a liaison between the public and social service agencies.
In the first month, there were 502 productive interactions between ambassadors and the public and only 23 difficult interactions. Ninety-nine referrals were made to local services, and only seven police calls were made, down from 69 in 2018. Ambassadors picked up 206 pieces of trash and recycled 79 items. There were zero trespassing charges and zero vandalism charges, a drastic drop from the yearly average of 18 and five respectively. This pilot program has already begun working and the ambassadors feel a great sense of accomplishment.