Homelessness is a major problem in the United States. In 2017, there were roughly 554,000 homeless people. This was the first time that the number of homeless people increased since 2010. In Arizona alone, there are over 36,000 homeless people – or one in every 184 Arizonans. Sadly, addiction and homelessness are strongly linked together. People who are homeless are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, while people who abuse substances are more likely to be homeless. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 38 percent of homeless people are addicted to alcohol, and 26 percent are addicted to other substances.
Let’s learn more about why there is such a strong connection between addiction and homelessness and what Phoenix addiction treatment options are available for those living on the streets.
Homelessness, Addiction and Mental Illness
Mental illness throws a wrench into things. It’s estimated that 33 percent of homeless people have a mental health disorder. Some of the most common mental disorders among homeless people are:
- Bipolar depression
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Severe anxiety
If a mental illness goes untreated, people have a harder time working and maintaining healthy relationships. To cope with their depression, anxiety or traumatic flashbacks, some people use drugs and alcohol. This situation can quickly spiral out of control, causing people to lose their jobs and their homes. Additionally, those with mental illness are more likely to be victims of assault.
Homelessness, Addiction and Women
Women deserve special attention because they often suffer gender-specific trauma that can contribute to substance abuse and homelessness. As a whole population, around 30 percent of homeless persons suffer from mental illness. However, between 50 to 60 percent of homeless women suffer from trauma that dates back to before they were homeless.
As a response to stressful situations, some women use drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. They may run away from the situation they are in, whether it’s an abusive household or a sex trafficking situation. Many of these women feel that they have nowhere to go but the streets.
Homelessness, Addiction and Young Adults
Drug abuse is more common among young homeless people, whereas alcohol abuse is more common among older homeless people. Sadly, young people between the ages of 12-17 are at a greater risk for living on the streets, especially when they have been the victims of abuse. It’s estimated that the majority of homeless young persons are missing, runaways, throwaways or abducted children.
Some of the factors that contribute to homelessness in young people are growing up in a homeless family, family abuse, running away from home and the early use of illicit substances.
Homelessness, Addiction and the LGBTQ Community
Another group of people that deserve attention is the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community has an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse because they often feel a lack of acceptance by their family and peers.
Most homeless LGBTQ people end up on the streets before they turn 18 years old. Sadly, members of the LGBTQ community are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than straight people. This population is also more likely than any other minority group to be the target of hate crimes.
What Comes First – the Addiction or Homelessness?
When discussing homelessness and addiction, it sounds a lot like the conversation about the chicken and the egg. What comes first – the homelessness or the addiction?
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, addiction is both a cause and a result of being homeless. People who experience trauma in their lives or are the victims of assault are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to cope. As they spiral into addiction, some end up on the streets and the cycle continues.
Once on the street, it’s very difficult for people to get the help they need. They lack education, resources and support. The hopelessness and despair that many homeless people feel contribute to the continued use of drugs and alcohol.
Recognizing the Barriers to Treatment
It’s understandable that people who are homeless would face extensive barriers to getting help. They tend to lack a strong support system, health insurance and financial resources. Many have low motivation due to depression. Even if they wanted to get help, homeless people usually don’t have a car or even a friend to get them to a drug rehab in Phoenix AZ.
The end result is people staying on the streets or ending up in homeless shelters and prisons. And, if a person who is homeless does get into a treatment program, they tend to have a harder time complying with a medication management program and therapeutic program. It takes comprehensive care and a team of doctors, nurses, therapists and case managers to work together to help those in need.
Homeless Persons with Addiction Need Comprehensive Support
It’s clear that a comprehensive approach is needed to treat homeless people with addiction. Here are some of the most important ingredients needed for the best chance at getting clean and staying clean.
- Sober housing access. People who are homeless need a stable living environment in order to recover from addiction. They cannot be expected to quit using drugs and alcohol while living on the streets.
- Well-trained staff. A treatment program that is open to homeless people must have well-trained staff that is compassionate, flexible and experienced.
- Client-centered services. Homeless persons need treatment programs that are customized to their specific needs. The most successful programs are dual diagnosis and address past trauma and underlying mental illness.
- Holistic services. Living on the streets takes a toll on people. Holistic programs support each individual on a mental, emotional, social, physical and spiritual level.
- Job re-entry programs. Those living on the streets need help getting on their feet. Job re-entry programs are successful at teaching people essential skills and helping them to find steady work.
- Medication management. A medical treatment program is often necessary for homeless people to safely recover from their addiction. Properly diagnosing and treating mental illness prevents relapse and improves quality of life.
- Affordable counseling. Treatment options are more limited for those without health insurance, but they are not impossible. Publicly sponsored programs are a good choice, as homeless individuals will continue to need counseling services.
It’s clear that addiction and homelessness go hand in hand, and that mental illness and trauma are often involved. Drug treatment in Phoenix is not clear cut because of all the factors involved, as well as the barriers to treatment. Even if a homeless person seeks treatment, they cannot be returned to the streets and expected to recover. A comprehensive approach must be taken, which includes continued counseling, 12-step programs and sober housing.
Continuum Recovery Center treats the whole person and delivers client-centered treatment services to most individuals. We have outpatient programs and sober housing. Please call us today and let us help you or a loved one achieve sobriety.
Geffen has been in the field for over 20 years, and has worked in every facet of substance abuse treatment. Using his own personal experience in recovery and the education he has learned while in the field, Geffen can relate and connect with clients in a way that promotes recovery, self love and the desire for clients to achieve the best for themselves. Geffen is licensed in Arizona as a substance abuse counselor and has an IC&RC certification, as well as a life coaching certification.