Drug Abuse and Homelessness
On one night in 2017, it is estimated that over half a million people in the United States were homeless. Many of these people also were likely battling drug addiction. Rates of drug abuse among homeless individuals are much higher than rates of drug abuse in the general population. In 2003, SAMHSA estimated that about 38% of homeless individuals had alcohol use disorder and about 26% had substance use disorder.
It is difficult for any person dealing with an addiction to get clean and stay clean. It is even more difficult for those men and women who do not have a roof over their heads. Knowing more about drug abuse and homelessness can help us work towards solutions to this problem.
Who is Homeless?
In 2017, homelessness increased for the first time in seven years. The majority of homeless individuals are white men over the age of 24. Women make up about 39% of the homeless population. And about a quarter of homeless individuals are children. The two states having the largest population of homeless individuals are New York and California.
Men and women who are homeless may live in camps, under bridges, or in their cars. However, most homeless are living in shelters or transitional housing.
It is easy to look at people who are homeless and assume that they are at fault for their situation. The fact of the matter, however, is that anyone can become homeless. In 2013, CNN Money reported that over 75% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. With the major causes of homelessness being low income and unaffordable housing, these findings suggest that many people are just one paycheck away from homelessness.
The Relationship Between Drug Abuse and Homelessness
The relationship between drug abuse and homelessness is a complex one. Drug abuse, in many instances, can be the cause of homelessness. A survey of 25 U.S. cities in 2008 found that drug abuse was the leading cause of homelessness “for single adults.”
The reverse is also true; individuals may develop substance use disorders only after they become homeless. Some who are homeless use drugs to cope with the daily stressors that they face. Others use drugs to help them fit into the homeless community better. When it comes to tobacco abuse, for example, many homeless individuals observe that smokers are better able to converse and connect with members of the homeless community than are non-smokers.
Homelessness After Rehab
Most of us think of drug rehab centers as places where those battling addiction can get the help that they need. And, for the most part, that is exactly what rehab centers are. However, in certain parts of the country, rehab centers may be hurting more than helping individuals dealing with substance abuse disorders, and these centers may be contributing to the rise in homelessness.
25-year-old Tyler McCollough is living on the streets of Costa Mesa, CA. But he has a home. So how is it that Tyler finds himself homeless? Battling heroin addiction while living in Arkansas, Tyler found a rehab program online in Orange County that would fly him out and get him clean at no cost to him. When Tyler’s insurance ran out, though, he was discharged from the rehab facility onto the streets. He is now over a thousand miles away from home, stealing on the streets of Costa Mesa to fund his heroin habit.
Government officials and rehab center employees in Florida and California have observed that many individuals now living on the streets are just like Tyler; they are people from out-of-state who came seeking help for their addiction but ended up, instead, discharged to the streets. Around 5% of homeless individuals who were interviewed by social workers in Costa Mesa reported that they had been enrolled in drug rehab facilities before they ended up on the streets. And the cycle of rehab, relapse, and homelessness among addicts who come to Palm Beach County, FL for help is so prevalent that prosecutors started referring to it as “the Florida shuffle.”
What is more, dishonest folks are using the drug rehab business to swindle addicts who are trying to get help. In New York City, people like Yury Baumblit run “three-quarter” houses where they shelter drug addicts and get them enrolled in rehab programs for the kickbacks that they get from Medicaid payments to these rehab programs. The message that Baumblit and other deceptive housing operators are sending those men and women who just want to get clean is unconscionable: relapse and continue to enroll in these rehab programs or lose your housing.
Finding Solutions to Drug Abuse and Homelessness
Most experts agree that–to solve the problem of drug abuse and homelessness–individuals need to have both stable, affordable housing and effective treatment. Didenko and Pankratz observed that housing for individuals during and after treatment for addiction lowers the likelihood of relapse.
It is also important to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem of drug abuse and homelessness. For example, a study of 50 individuals who had dealt with drug abuse and homelessness found that varied and unique approaches towards rehabilitation were more effective than standard abstinence-based approaches. Many were able to get clean once they obtained housing, some recovered through attending counseling, and still, others were able to learn harm-reduction strategies that allowed them to wean off an addictive substance.
Individuals who are homeless and battling drug abuse need to know how to overcome drug addiction. If you or someone you know is dealing with drug abuse and homelessness, know that here is help, and there is hope.