Is Addiction the Biggest Cause of Homelessness


There are several factors that play into someone becoming homeless; housing costs, family issues, substance abuse, physical disabilities, and mental illness are some of the most common causes. However, is substance abuse the largest contributing factor to homelessness?

In 2008, a study conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors in 25 cities found substance abuse was the single most significant cause of homelessness. However, this is not as clear cut as that statement sounds. It can be tough to determine whether the homelessness was caused by substance abuse or if the substance abuse precipitated by homelessness. Essentially it is a chicken or the egg problem.

So, which of these two situations more commonly causes the other? For some substance abuse is the primary contributing factor to their homelessness, and for others, it is a symptom of their situation in life. While there have been studies done on the populations, it is still hard to draw a line in the sand on this and even knowing this does not really offer a solution to the problem.

Regardless of whether the addiction or homelessness came first, addiction adds a new layer of hardship on the road out of homelessness. The added instability caused by substance abuse, both mentally and financially, can land many who are working on getting out of their situation right back where they started.

This reality is all too real for those struggling with homelessness and substance abuse. This, combined with treatment costs and scarcity of state-funded treatment centers, further exacerbates this issue. Moreover, many state-funded treatment centers are overpopulated and can have month-long waiting lists for availability. With all these points, those working to address these issues have an uphill battle they must fight.

As cities try and figure out what to do to handle homeless populations, substance abuse is a large portion of what is taken into consideration. The problem is there is no quick fix when it comes to mental health. Many of those who struggle with substance abuse will try and get sober several times before achieving sobriety. Distress and trauma play a large part in substance abuse, and this heavily impacts one’s mental health.

One of the issues facing reform is that many city officials don’t agree on the precipitating factors of homelessness and which is more important to address. Some feel the focus should be on fixing the housing issues while others point to the lack of mental health care facilities available to those who are homeless. Not to mention the illnesses or injuries which can happen to those who are homeless whose emergency medical care must be handled.

I wish I could end this with an idea of how to fix this problem, but there is no easy solution. When you’re talking about issues like this, each case is different, and any solution will have to reflect this fact. Though help on that large of a scale and with that attention to detail will be hard to achieve.

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