Every night, somewhere upwards of 690,000 American citizens go to bed homeless. Not only is substance abuse a major contributing factor in the continuation of homelessness amongst individuals, but it also happens to be the leading cause. It is estimated that nearly one half of all homeless men and women battle severe chemical addictions – and upwards of 70% of all homeless veterans grapple with substance abuse.
HIV was previously the leading cause of death amongst members of the homeless community. Over the course of the past several years, drug overdose has taken over as the leading cause of death nationwide, now claiming more lives annually than motor vehicle accidents for the first time in recorded history. In the general population, opioid painkillers have now surpassed every other type of drug combined as the leading cause of overdose-related death – and this devastating trend has undeniably affected the homeless members of society as well, with 81% of homeless overdose deaths (in a study spanning from 2003-2008) being linked directly to opioid abuse.
Homelessness and drug addiction go hand-in-hand for somewhat obvious reasons. In many cases, prolonged drug abuse will eventually lead to poverty. When an individual is in the throws of severe physical and mental chemical dependency, obtaining the next high becomes a literal matter of life or death, and all other basic human instincts are completely overwhelmed by the need to use. This totally engulfing and overpowering physical and mental craving lead individuals to treat loved ones with cruelty, discontinue showing up to work, and sell or pawn everything possible in order to support their costly habits. In turn, drug-addicted persons are often kicked out of their families and homes, fired from their jobs, and left with little (if anything) to their names.
Unfortunately, not even homelessness can deter addicts from using. Many go to great lengths in order to obtain their drug of choice, such as prostitution and property or violent crimes. And if a homeless addict or alcoholic who is still using attempts seeking shelter, the likelihood they will be accepted into a program while under the influence is slim. Many shelters require sobriety for admittance, and homeless drug addicts and alcoholics are often “screened out” of public housing. This only prolongs their usage, seeing as living on the city streets is often too unbearable to undergo while sober or withdrawing.
The drug addiction prevalent throughout the homeless population has become nothing short of an epidemic. Not only do drug and alcohol problems lead to homelessness, they prolong it. Homeless individuals tend to suffer disproportionately from all health problems, seeing as they have no mental or physical healthcare readily available. With proper care, the vast majority of homeless individuals would return to being fully functioning and valuable members of society. Fortunately, solutions are beginning to be implemented across the country – solutions that are proven to work. Permanent supportive housing provides holistic case management and a variety of other substance abuse treatment services. This is an effective way to end chronic homelessness and begin recovery from substance abuse.