At the age of 15, I was hooked on crack and heroin. At the age of 16, I was homeless. By the age of 17, I turned to prostitution. I was without hope and the child inside me was gone forever”, recalls Tim A, a man we know well who has now been in recovery for more than 27 years.
Tim’s story illustrates the often common progression from troubled family life to addiction and homelessness. But this early misfortune does not have to be a death sentence, and countless people who go down this path may turn their lives around for the better.
In this post, we discuss the link between addiction and homelessness, but perhaps more importantly, we recommend a number of charities that exist to help homeless people get back on track for a happy and stable future.
Addiction and homelessness are often symptoms of deep-seated mental health issues. The vast majority of people affected by addiction and homelessness experienced traumatic events such as sexual and physical abuse during childhood. Thus, the solution to addiction and homelessness must aim to tackle these mental causes. Doing so will give homeless people the belief that they can regain an existence they can be proud of.
Dispelling the myth that addiction causes homelessness
Often, we hear people debating whether addiction causes homelessness or vice versa. We feel this debate is largely based on erroneous assumptions, given the fact that the answer is likely to be neither. Instead, homelessness and addiction are symptoms of mental health problems.
It’s common for addiction to arise before homelessness, and this is one reason why many people blame addiction for causing homelessness. We urge these people to look deeper and they will inevitably come to the conclusion that there is one common enemy that’s to blame for both addiction and mental health issues, and this enemy is mental health issues.
Those who are considered ‘right wing’ are often known to blame the homeless for their plight. These people say the homeless ‘choose’ to be homeless, and so taxpayers should not be expected to fund the homeless via the welfare state. Those holding these ignorant beliefs are known to dismiss the homeless as alcoholics and drug addicts. This attitude assumes that addiction is the cause of homelessness, which is clearly not the case.
The homeless: an ever-shifting population
For the vast majority of people affected by homelessness, circumstances will improve for the better. Homelessness is rarely a permanent state of being. The homeless population is not static, but the number of homeless living in the United Kingdom has dramatically increased over the last few years due to an almost ideological pursuit of policies designed to promote austerity.
Who are the homeless?
Homeless is an adjective that squarely fails to describe the people it claims to represent. The homeless consist of people from all classes of society. This perhaps reflects the fact that mental health problems do not discriminate based on age, class, sex or race.
Homeless people are classified as such because they lack a fixed abode. Recent official figures suggest there are 4,751 rough sleepers in England as of April 2017.
It is also worth pointing out that there exist different categories of homeless people. These categories include:
- Sheltered homelessness – living in emergency shelters
- Unsheltered homelessness – living on the streets, a vehicle or abandoned buildings
- Doubled up homelessness – living with family or friends on a temporary basis
Homeless people experiencing any of the above categories of homelessness are known to disproportionate experience from addiction and mental health problems.
Addiction and homelessness
Although we reject the claim that addiction is the cause of homelessness, it’s clear that addiction accompanies homelessness, and addiction often acts as a precursor to homelessness. It’s equally true to say that addiction is one of the main obstacles that prevent the homeless from turning their lives around.
Mental health and homelessness
Around two-thirds of homeless people also suffer from a chronic mental health problem. Around one-third of homeless people suffer from a serious mental health problem. It’s thus well-established that mental health problems are a major contributing factor when it comes to homelessness. The homeless are known to self-medicate mental ailments using drugs and alcohol.
Helping the homeless turn their lives around
Although public funding for the homeless has reduced over the last decade, help still does exist. We must also stress there are a number of measures the Government could pursue that do not involve the spending of money. These measures could include:
- Financial incentives to encourage employers to give jobs to people who are rehabilitating from homelessness and addiction
- Minimum unit alcohol pricing of 50p across the United Kingdom
- Better availability and accessibility of residential and outpatient addiction services
Further external resources
- Action on Addiction
- Shelter England
- Shelter Scotland
- The Pavement
- Street Link
- Citizens Advice