Libraries Are the New Homeless Shelters

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One community facility that has been profoundly affected by the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill individuals and our failure to provide treatment for them are the public libraries. Many libraries have become day centers for mentally ill people who are homeless or living in board-and-care homes. A 2009 survey of 124 public libraries, randomly selected from all parts of the United States, asked about “patrons who appear to have serious psychiatric disorders.” The librarians reported that such individuals had “disturbed or otherwise affected the use of the library” in 92 percent of the libraries and “assaulted library staff members” in 28 percent. Eighty-five percent of the libraries had had to call the police because of the behavior of such patrons. This included benign activities such as a “patron rearranging reference books by size and refuses to stop” and less benign activities such as a man running “through the circulation area, near the children’s department, repeatedly without clothing.”

— From American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System (published by Oxford in October)

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