Homelessness and Addiction: How are the two related?
There are many stereotypes and stigmas pertaining to those who are homeless. Many people tend assume that they’re all drug addicts or alcoholics. While that’s not the case, there’s a strong correlation and relationship between the two groups. It’s probably not surprising to learn that people who have desceneded deep into the abysss of addiction eventually end up on the streets. It makes sense, right? If you’re solely focused on that next fix, you’re probably not spending your money on rent and bills. Sooner or later, even after using up favors from friends and family, you’ll be on the street. The problem here is that the process of going from casual drug user/drinker to broke, destitute and homeless can take years, or even decades. Addicts become master manipulators over time. They learn how to exploit kindness and weakness in every living human they come in contact with – friends, family, spouses, priests/pastors, etc. To an addict, anything that gives them what they want in that moment requires doing whatever it takes to make that happen. If you’re looking for the answer tto “the chicken or the egg” question, researchers have made a clear discovery. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, addiction can be both a cause and a result of homelessness. To further complicate matters, mental illness is often an underlying cause of addiction and, therefore, homelessness as well. This fact makes negative stereotypes about addiction and homelessness all the more ill-founded
In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance – not a permanent condition. It does not encapsulate who people are. So, from that perspective, the number of people who are homeless is very fluid – not static, as often naively thought. This population is determined through a snapshot in time. Actually, defining who is “homeless” can vary considerably, depending on the source and context used. But generally, the homeless are those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence.” It’s probably safe to say that no one wants to be homeless. For addicts however, every single thing that should matter no longer matters when you’re craving substances. Being homeless might be an “acceptable” consequence of the 24 hour a day quest to abuse substances. For those people who have or had jobs and suffered a financial hardship that left them homeless, studies show that the simple act of being homeless can fuel an addiction. A person who is broke, homeless, depressed and surrounded by substances abusers can succumb to the temptation of using them as a suppressor to help them cope with their anguish. At that point, it can turn into a vicious cycle.
Here in Orange County, California, we had a huge encampment near the Angels’ baseball stadium. You’ve probably seen stories about on social media or in the news. What started off as a nice bike trail turned into a no-go zone for citizens as addicts setup a “homeless” camp on city property. What ensued was a vicious battle between local residents and homeless addicts. Eventually, everyone agreed (thankfully) that those among them who wanted help should be provided help. There were about 1,700 people in the camp. A civil rights lawsuit filed in late January eventually led the county to offer 30-day motel stays to about 700 people, along with assessments of their needs. It now has engaged the entire county in considering next steps on emergency shelters, transitional and permanent housing, and how to deal with transients who disrupt communities.
Costs and numbers
The motel program involved 51 motels, at an average cost of $95 per night for 582 rooms, said Jennifer Nentwig, a spokeswoman for the county. That would put the cost for the 30-day program, not including some extended stays, at about $1.6 million. The county spent another $1.6 million on a six-month contract at an Anaheim motel used for longer-term mental health placements.
According to Kim, about half accepted services and referrals to shelters; 36 percent declined any offer of shelter or service; 15 percent left the motels before they could be assessed.
In short, more than HALF of the residents of the camp DECLINED ALL HELP. These people were either mentally ill or addicts who wanted to be able to feed their addiction without supervision. Here’s a look at some of the numbers.
Motel placements: 697
- 589 assessed by county healthcare and social workers
- 70 evicted before they could be assessed
- 31 involved some unknown disposition
- 7 left on their own before an assessment
Post-motel placements: 338 in shelters or other services
- 149 enrolled in residential mental health treatment (accompanied by 22 partners or caregivers)
- 57 entered Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim
- 29 in interim housing while looking for subsidized or self-paid rental
- 27 placed in programs of nonprofit service providers
- 23 in substance abuse residential treatment
- 16 entered the Courtyard Transitional Center in Santa Ana
- 5 at the women-only WISEPlace transtional housing in Santa Ana
- 5 in recuperative medical care
- 3 incarcerated
- 1 crisis residential treatment (mental health)
- 1 hospitalized
Assessed and declined help or not completed: 251
- 111 declined all services
- 71 did not show up or left on their own
- 39 staying with family or friends
- 14 undecided
- 8 no placement identified
- 7 evicted
- 1 died
On Thursday, March 8, 2018, officials reported on the total amount of debris, needles and hazardous waste that was removed when crews cleaned up the area along the Santa Ana River Trail once populated by the encampments of homeless people. Here’s what was collected between Jan. 22 and March 3 from a more than two-mile stretch of bike trail roughly from I-5 in Orange to Ball Road in Anaheim, according to OC Public Works spokesman Shannon Widor:
- 404 tons of debris
- 13,950 needles (approximate number based on what disposal containers hold)
- 5,279 pounds of hazardous waste (human waste, propane, pesticides and other materials)
Before and after photographs published by the Register last week show stark differences at different spots along the trail, as does a video the county posted Feb. 28 on YouTube.
In summary, it was blatanly clear that people who are wrapped up in addiction eventually reach a point where they’re willing to sacrifice their health and housing so that they can focus on feeding their addiction. This is the power of addiction. Mental health considerations, even mild cases of co-occurring disorders can have a big impact. Some addicts are still questioning whether or not they’re really an addict. That’s dangerous thinking for obvious reasons.