Should Homeless Shelters Be Required to Help People Under the influence of Drugs
Homeless shelters undoubtedly provide a very valuable community service – providing shelter, sustenance and other much-needed services to those who are going without. This is neither an easy nor an inexpensive venture, and requires dedicated, compassionate and knowledgeable staff, as well as extensive resources. The difficulty inherent in providing shelter and care to the homeless can be further complicated if these individuals are also suffering from drug abuse and addiction problems, but does that mean they should turn such individuals away?
Demanding Care for the Drug Addicted
The Department of Housing and Urban Development in Connecticut recently decided that all homeless shelters that apply for state funding must equally serve individuals who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, some shelters refuse to do so, and are therefore closing their doors and terminating all shelter services.
The Conference of Churches Charities, located in Manchester, is one such shelter that refuses to serve homeless individuals who are suffering from drug abuse or addiction problems. Officials of the forty-bed shelter say that it is more along the lines of their shelter’s mission to serve only those who are homeless, and that the state’s mandate will affect their ability to offer the services they feel are most helpful and necessary. Despite the fact that they plan to close the main shelter doors, the church group does still intend to run community outreach programs to assist members of the homeless community in other ways.
While this and other shelters have a right to their opinions, one is forced to consider whether they are making the right decision to refuse delivery of services to individuals who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After all, these individuals need help too, and may feel that they have no options or hope for a better future if they are turned away from shelters they reach out to.
One successful program blocked by sociological research has indicated that when shelters focus first on getting people into their facility, addressing the larger issues they may suffer from can actually be much easier. This is well understood when one considers that someone who is suffering from drug abuse and addiction problems and who is also struggling with homelessness may be so troubled by their difficulty in maintaining steady survival that they are unable to even face the idea of addressing and resolving their drug problems. Having a safe shelter can eliminate enough of the individual’s worry that they are then able to focus on seeking help for their drug abuse and addiction problems. The Connecticut mandate therefore drives shelters to consider the ultimate purpose of helping anyone, in any condition, stabilize their lives and improve their futures. The method by which various shelters accomplish this can, of course, vary widely.
The Benefit of Providing Care
The fact is that many members of the homeless community also suffer from drug abuse and addiction problems, whether these problems led to their homelessness or resulted from it. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness further reports that approximately half of all individuals experiencing homelessness and roughly seventy percent of all Veterans experiencing homelessness also suffer from drug abuse and addiction problems. Drugs and alcohol become a way for the individual to self-medicate, and the fact is that they need help and treatment, not rejection. Unfortunately, due to shelter sobriety policies, many of these individuals have trouble finding the shelter they need, which can push them into escalating their drug use as a way to cope.
It is true that staff at homeless shelters will require further training in order to provide needed services to drug addicted individuals, but this training is available. More importantly, providing these valuable services will allow more individuals to start their journey to full and lasting recovery, thereby improving communities and indeed society at large.