Are All Homeless People Drug Addicts?

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Homelessness and drug addiction tend to be seen as two sides of the same coin.

And while a significant proportion of homeless people do have substance abuse problems, the issue is controversial in nature as, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, addiction itself cannot account for the increase in the homeless population.

Access to treatment

A 2006 survey from the United States Conference of Mayors revealed that only about 26 percent of the homeless population is dealing with substance abuse issues. However, hundreds – if not thousands – of unreported cases can't be accounted for.

Still, those who are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction may find it difficult, if not impossible, to find the treatment they need without health insurance or income. Compounded with long waiting lists for publicly funded treatment centers, most homeless people are never able to get the help that they need. And since homeless people cannot be contacted once a spot opens up in a treatment facility, they are often overlooked and addiction becomes a way of life.

Lifestyle challenges

Using and selling drugs can become a normal activity for homeless people. Selling drugs is typically one of the only ways that homeless people can make money, too, so individuals are forced to become involved in drug culture in order to eat and survive.

Moreover, facing the everyday challenges of finding shelter, food and water combined with the stress and violence of living on the streets creates a vulnerability toward drug use as a way to temporarily relieve physical or emotional discomfort.

Risk factors

While addiction can develop as a result of homelessness, it usually isn't the cause of homelessness. More likely risk factors include mental illness, disabilities, competition for low-income housing or loss of employment.

And with the decline of single-room occupancy housing in major cities over the last several decades, individuals who used to have a place to stay are now forced to live on the streets.

Source: National Coalition for the Homeless

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