Substance Abuse and Homelessness

Homelessness is becoming a more and more prevalent issue in America as years progress. Drive through any city’s downtown area and you’re bound to see at least one, if not many more, homeless individuals or families residing along the streets or in homeless camps. In many cases, these people have been suffering from homelessness for years and this has simply become their norm; this is known as chronic homelessness. Although this has become a way of life for many, homelessness doesn’t just happen; there are several factors that can lead up to this devastating last resort.

Homelessness really began to plague America in the 1980s when severe HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) cuts took place resulting in the homeless population increasing to 200,000-500,000 on any given night according to Christopher Jencks in his book The Homeless. Last year, in 2017, California was the leading state for homelessness with 24.28% of the adult population being affected. Student homelessness wise, California also trailed with a leading percent of 44.53 as displayed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Now, in 2018, the number of homeless individuals continues to increase. Other than HUD cuts, there are several reasons one may find themselves homeless, the most popular cases being due to job loss, drugs or alcohol use, divorce, abandonment, and domestic violence. In fact, 63% of homeless women and children are homeless due to domestic violence and 92% have experienced severe physical or sexual assault. Many of them cut connections while in the abusive relationship and once they were out, had no one to turn to and no assistance available. Duly noted, substance abuse remains the number one reason people find themselves homeless.

Being addicted to any form of a substance almost inevitably places a strain on relationships between friends and family. Not to mention, it also in most cases causes those addicted to lose their jobs. If someone is already struggling financially, the loss of a job results in overdue bills and in several cases, the loss of their house. With strained relationships already in full force, many addicts find themself without a plan. According to Didenko and Pankratz in their article, Substance Use: Pathways to homelessness? Or a way of adapting to street life?, two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless. Even if an addiction wasn’t present before becoming homeless, it’s highly likely that one will develop as a result.

Burdened by the neverending hardships homelessness places on its victims, many of those suffering seek for an escape. For 64% of them, they find that escape through drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse, as described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the excessive use of a drug (such as alcohol, narcotics, or cocaine) : use of a drug without medical justification. Older generations of the homeless tend to lean more towards alcohol while the younger generations tend to be more subjectable to drugs. Drugs and alcohol are expensive, especially when bought frequently as addiction calls for. According to The Rehab Spot, the annual cost of addiction to alcohol ranges around $4,500, cocaine ranges around $8,000, and heroin around $54,000. The fact that most of the money the homeless manage to obtain fuels their developed drug and alcohol addiction is the exact reason they’re stuck in that reality. Becoming dependant on an illicit substance only exacerbates their problems and decreases their chances at achieving employment stability. However, in the moment, many homeless people don’t think about this effect, surviving their situation is the main thing on their mind. Many homeless people have used up the available generosity and sympathy from friends and family which makes kicking an addiction that much harder. Without a strong support group, the likelihood of getting sober and remaining that way is little to none, especially on the streets where drugs are so widely available and accepted.

The homeless make up such a huge percent of America’s population and it only makes sense to assist them in becoming functional members of our society. There are already a few programs in place such as emergency shelters, transitional housing, and safe havens which all provide some sort of temporary housing. The problem with these however is that there are more homeless people than beds or rooms available and most of the sites require their borders to be sober. As mentioned previously, more than half of the homeless population suffers from addiction making these options out of their reach. A better approach to stomping out homelessness is rehab facilities targeted towards the homeless. Many homeless people can’t afford your typical rehab facility making the desire to get sober less appealing. But, if there were affordable, or even relatively free rehab facilities strictly for the homeless, they would have access to the chance of becoming sober and bettering their lives. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council emphasizes the importance of integrating substance abuse treatment with mental healthcare and housing in order to provide comprehensive, effective treatment. Detox, rehab, 12-Step meetings, counseling, and medication management are among the services that homeless people need to recover from addiction.

Another successful method of getting people off the streets is to build career pathways with benefits such as housing and homelessness assistance so that attention is focused on those who are most at risk or are already experiencing homelessness. Having a steady place to live while working allows the homeless to focus on their occupation first and then their own housing once they have established a comfortable amount of money. Not to mention, having an indoor living arrangement drastically decreases the individual’s chance at developing an ailment and increases their overall health. Organizations such as HomeFirst, based out of Santa Clara County, have recognized this need and now provide upwards of 350 beds per each of their 7 locations including 18 reserved beds for the mentally ill, 20 beds for the medically respite, and 48 beds for veterans. According to their fact sheet, HomeFirst’s Boccardo Reception Center is the largest homeless service center in Santa Clara County. It provides shelter and transitional housing, housing search services, mental health counseling, employment search services, the area’s most comprehensive set of programs for homeless veterans, and a medical clinic. In just two years (2013-2015) Santa Clara County witnessed a 14% reduction in homelessness. If there were more organizations out there that assisted the homeless in finding reliable shelter while also setting them up with a job, within a few years, the homelessness percentage in just California alone is bound to decline.

Another method would be to contain the homeless. No matter how hard the police try, homeless camps are always going to exist. If cities designated certain areas for the homeless to make camp, it would get them off of the streets improving the curb appeal of the city itself. Of course, the camps can’t be a free-for-all. There should be rules and regulations for the camps set up by the city. For example, keeping the camp clean, establishing a strict no crime policy, and making it subjectable to random searches. Giving the homeless a place to call their own will not only lift their spirits but take the burden of not having a place to go lifted off their shoulders.

Currently, the homeless rate in America is steadily increasing and sidewalks are beginning to become homeless camps. According to the Affordable Housing Finance, one out of ten of people will experience some form of homelessness in their lifetime theoretically making anyone at risk at any given time. Although there are many factors that can render one homeless, the most credible is substance abuse. Not only is it a reason homeless people end up homeless, it is also a reason many stay that way. In order to re-enforce the homeless into valuable members of our society, we need to give them the support and resources needed to overcome addictions through a targeted program specifically designed to their needs. Along with that, more organizations should be formed which houses and aids the homeless for free while finding them a steady job. If all else fails, legalizing certain homeless camps and giving the homeless a designated place to stay will decrease the number of homeless roaming the streets. Once they are sober and off the streets, they can focus on rebuilding their life and ultimately benefiting themselves and inspiring those like them.

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