This essay made more of an impact than any other I have written. A shorter version appeared in the L A Times when the full version appeared at tomdispatch.com. From there it was re-published widely across the World Wide Web, reprinted in paper format here and there (including in Germany), and is widely cited and debated. I often do radio interviews after my essays are published - this one got me on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. Martin Sheen quoted it in a speech and his son, actor-director Emilio Estevez, bought film rights and is working on a script for a movie based on the essay and related journal entires I gave him. I was offered book deals to write more on this and turned them down.
The purpose of writing the essay was to get closure by bearing witness to what I had experienced and learned. I wrote it while staying at the Mesa Refuge in Pt. Reyes as a guest of Peter Barnes. I didn't allow it to get published until I retired from my library career because I didn't want my colleagues to deal with any more controversy than I already created as an environmental advocate/activist. The names of homeless library users were changed to protect privacy.
The genesis of this one was very personal. As Asst. Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, I dealt with chronically homeless people on a daily basis for six years. I learned a lot about the plight of the homeless and was frustrated that so many compassionate and well-informed friends knew so little about homelessness, namely that there are working poor people who become temporarily homeless and then there are chronically homeless people who live more or less permanently on the street. In my experience, most of those people are untreated mentally ill. Casting them out and onto the street is not only immoral, it is excedingly expensive and ineffective public policy.
The original title was "Outcasts Inside." It was often published as "How the Library Became the Heartbreak Hotel," Tom's over-title in the link below. I have linked it to the tomdispatch.com version where it originally appeared. My thanks to Tom Englehardt, legendary editor and personal mentor, for his help on making this one happen.