The Homeless and Drug Addiction

The homeless and drug addiction isn’t a topic that garners much public sympathy. For many people, providing support to homeless individuals who use drugs seems counter-intuitive. However, there are a number of misconceptions about the homeless and addiction that makes a real resolve to the problem difficult. The fact of the matter is that drug addiction is often the direct cause of homelessness, and sometimes homelessness is the cause of addiction or alcoholism. Understanding the root cause of either of these problems is critical to developing resources and public education programs with the focus of resolving not just homelessness, but addiction as well.

Homelessness and Drug Addiction – The Chicken or the Egg?

*Substance Abuse and Addiction Leads to Homelessness 

Many people are unaware that addiction can directly cause homelessness. The social, economic, occupational and familial dysfunctions caused by addiction can lead a person to lose everything – possessions, relationships, career, etc – and have no choice but to turn to a homeless facility for food and shelter. In fact, the majority of people who are homeless suffer from substance abuse issues sufficient enough to cause the complete decline of all areas in their lives, eventually leading to a loss of shelter. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless;

“A 2008 survey by the United States Conference of Mayors asked 25 cities for their top three causes of homelessness. Substance abuse was the single largest cause of homelessness for single adults (reported by 68% of cities). Substance abuse was also mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top three causes of homelessness for families. According to Didenko and Pankratz (2007), two-thirds of homeless people report that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless.” (1)

*Homelessness Leads to Drug Addiction and Alcoholism

While these USCM statistics are sobering, they do not detract from the fact that some people turn to drugs as a result of their homelessness. Whatever a particular person’s situation may be, the causes of homelessness are usually severe and include mental illness and domestic violence.  Studies have shown that up to 25% of homeless people also suffer from mental illness, with mental and psychological conditions ranking as the #3 reason why people lose their livelihoods and the very shelter over their heads. (3)

Unfortunately, mental illness and homelessness aren’t yet the “bottom of the hole” for a majority of these unfortunates.  In order to cope with these and other issues, many people who become homeless turn to drugs or alcohol to seek relief and quickly become addicted. The drug addiction and alcoholism lifestyle led by most of the homeless community also means that in order to fit in, substance abuse is virtually expected. And because their lives are in such deplorable conditions to begin with, there is generally no motivation to quit using once a homeless person starts.

Public Perception is a Major Part of the Problem

Public perception concerning the homeless and drug addiction is a double-edged sword. In fact, some people have even sought to discourage public discourse on and general knowledge of the close relationship between addiction and homelessness. In a 1989 article for the New York Times Gina Kolata describes this problem;

“Advocates like Robert M. Hayes, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a group with headquarters in New York, say they have shied away from discussing the problem of addiction in the past, in part because they feared that the public would lose its sympathy for the homeless.” (2)

Additionally, a general attitude expressed by many in the general population is that providing assistance to homeless people with drug or alcohol problems isn’t wise because the assistance will largely be squandered on dope or booze.

These public perception issues coupled with economic and other disadvantages of people suffering through both homelessness and addiction can make it difficult or impossible to seek and obtain proper addiction treatment. With resources already stretched thin in most communities, homeless people with addiction problems are often not a priority.

What Are We Doing About it?

In order to address these issues, the United States Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with a 1.5 billion dollar appropriation for the prevention of homelessness and to develop housing solutions for current homeless people.  4 years later the results of this segment of the ARRA – referred to as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program provision, are deplorable and warrant serious investigation.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program portion of the ARRA resulted in virtually no change in regard to the number of homeless people in the United States, and the funding for this program was exhausted by 2012. (4)

At this stage considerable efforts must be made in order to end the relationship between the homeless and drug addiction using a 3 pronged attack:

1) Homeless prevention program
2) Rapid Re-Housing Programs
3) Accessible and Ongoing Drug Addiction Treatment

But these changes can only be accomplished via public education about this issue.  Please help this cause and improve your own communities by helping to share this article and let others know that homelessness and drug addiction are directly related, and without an increased level of awareness and action more and more people will fall victim to this deplorable state of living.


(1) National Coalition for the Homeless  Substance Abuse and Homelessness July, 2009
(2) Kolata, Gina  Twins of the Streets: Homelessness and Addiction 05/22/1989 The New York Times
(3) National Coalition for the Homeless  Mental Illness and Substance Abuse  July 2009
(4) The National Alliance to End HomelessnessThe State of Homelessness in America 2012 01/17/2012

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