There is a new and unique situation plaguing local governments in municipalities which is an ever-increasing amount of homeless people in America. Along with this upsurge of homeless Americans is the ever-increasing amount of drugs abuse of these folks who do not have places to call their own.
More and more Americans who are living without a home are developing drug and alcohol abuse problems. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (USHUD) and its most recent report on homelessness, more than 42.9% individual homeless adults have disabilities, which include drug and alcohol problems. This statistic can be compared to 14% percent of adults who have disabilities and are living without a home but are living with their families.
Furthermore, drug and alcohol use and homelessness are related according to whether or not a person is homeless for a short term or long term. Specifically, of the 5% of the nearly 2 million homeless people reported by the USHUD in 2009 categorized as chronically homeless, nearly all people living without a home for more than a month have family problems and some kind of disability, including drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness. Based on the 2009 HUD Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, about one-third of sheltered homeless persons reported chronic substance abuse problem, which means they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
With such varying rates and numbers (chronic vs. short term homelessness, homeless individuals vs. homeless families, and the lack of precise data on “disability”), it is difficult to come up with a definition conclusion on the relationship between addiction and homelessness. But it seems logical to conclude that drugs and alcohol can play an important role in either getting a person on the streets, or keeping that person on the streets. And this seems to be in line with real experiences on the streets. Obtaining prescription drugs or cheap alcohol is easy for homeless who panhandle the public for money for “food” and usually use it to purchase drugs.
What Comes First
It’s safe to say that addiction comes first. If a person is a homeless addict, most likely they became homeless because of their addiction. It is an all-too-common story that persons who were once successful started to abuse drugs or alcohol and started the vicious downward spiral until he finds himself or herself on the streets without a home. They have already “burned bridges” with family and friends whom they’ve worn out their welcome with and have nowhere to turn and find themselves on the street. But where there’s a will there’s a way and these people find how to obtain drugs on the street and are kept there because of their dependence.
It is important to address addiction within the homeless population at large. While people who abuse drugs and alcohol make up a relatively small share of the homeless population, they consume more emergency and transitional shelters and occupy hospitals and jails at high rates.
In the interest of social welfare, we need to address the root causes of homelessness, and disability caused by addiction is one that is treatable. Local governments are seeking to solve the problem by getting people off the street and into subsidized housing. But there is some resistance to this idea, as citizens don’t feel that it solves some of the deeper problems of mental disorders and/or substance abuse.
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