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Homelessness and Addiction Across America
There are an estimated half million Americans that are homeless. 45% of the estimated 553,742 homeless citizens reside in the California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Washington. Cities with disproportionately large numbers of homeless people include Washington, DC, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Santa Rosa. Reasons that these cities have such high rates of homelessness include the higher price of housing, being able to sleep on the street, the number of homeless shelters, and the characteristics of the community. Some individual aspects that are tied to homelessness are incarceration, poverty, mental health, social ties, and drug addiction.
Causes of Homelessness
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Adminstration (SAMHSA) an estimated 64% of homeless people had drug use problems in the past month, 38% had alcohol use problems, and 39% had some form of mental health problems. The American homeless population is mostly male, with 70% being men, and white Americans making up 49% of the homeless population. There are a variety of reasons why someone might become homeless, with part of it being bad luck. However, those who live at the poverty level are most at risk for becoming homeless. People who are paying 50% or more of their total income on housing rent are at risk of experiencing homelessness at some point in their life.
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Drug and alcohol addiction are both a cause and a potential consequence of homelessness. Approximately two thirds of people who are homeless have a lifetime history of some form of an alcohol or drug disorder. Addiction to drugs can lead people to lose their jobs and disrupt their relationships with family and friends. Fifty one percent of people seeking shelter at homeless shelters previously were staying with family or friends, which leads to the conclusion that they may have exhausted their safe housing options.
Homelessness and Drug Addiction: What Comes First?
The price of addiction is high and can deplete a hefty salary and savings in a small amount of time. The annual cost of a Heroin addiction can range between $22,810 and $91,250 depending on a number of factors. Substance abuse is much more common in homeless communities than in the general population, and while some people’s addiction fueled their descent into homelessness, others use substances as a coping mechanism.
Many homeless people use drugs as a temporary relief from their problems. Living on the streets is a highly stressful situation, especially not knowing when your next meal or decent sleep will come. Using drugs to cope with stress can lead to addiction, and addiction will only heighten stress in the long run. The National Coalition for the Homeless states that some people abuse drugs and alcohol to be accepted by the homeless community. Getting clean from a drug addiction is already difficult for people with a lot of support, so it might seem impossible for someone living on the streets to get clean.
Overcoming Drug Addiction While Homeless
Homeless people who are motivated to overcome a drug addiction may find themselves with few options. There is limited access to services, and it is hard to stay clean in a place where drugs are so commonly used. When food and shelter are the main priorities, some may lack the motivation to seek substance use treatment and work on personal development. With roughly 45% of homeless populations suffering from a mental health disorder, some may self-medicate with illicit drugs without having access to proper health care. Many programs for mental health will not accept patients with a substance use disorder, and many programs for substance use treatment will not accept mental health patients. Co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders, are when someone is diagnosed with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder, and they must both be treated. Many programs are prepared to treat both conditions.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Coalition for the Homeless offers resources for homeless people struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Some programs aim for abstinence only, while others focus on harm reduction. One example is The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) that opened the Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment (SPOT) program. SPOT provides medical staff to observe and provide emergency treatment for people who have used drugs. They average about 200 people a month and have administered naloxone (a drug to reverse narcotic overdose) 30 times.
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Find Help for Homelessness and Addiction
If you are struggling with homelessness and drug addiction, there is help available for you. Contact a compassionate treatment provider who can help you find the right path towards recovery. Don’t wait to seek treatment: in cities like Philadelphia, the Opioid epidemic has tripled deaths in their homeless population. Similar trends are appearing around the country, such as Los Angeles where deaths of their homeless have doubled since 2013. The largest contributing factor to death was drug and alcohol overdose.
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