Libraries Are the New Homeless Shelters

A very short book excerpt
Snvv/Shutterstock

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)

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Health

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In