Alcoholism and the Homeless
There are a growing number of homeless people on the streets in America’s cities and towns. Many need help to change their situation. But what if the reason for their homelessness is not lack of access to housing, but alcoholism, other forms of substance abuse, or mental illness and co-occurring disorders? Certainly this is not the cause of all homelessness, but it is part of the equation for a large number of people. If that’s the case, perhaps access to substance abuse and other mental health services could be part of the homelessness solution.
One report released by the San Diego Police illustrates the huge expense to taxpayers of treating chronic alcoholism. This data includes a large percentage of homeless persons. Consider the following:
- In one year, one man had to be transported to the hospital 52 times, was also arrested eight times and cost the city $85,000;
- 12 chronic alcoholics that were transported 316 times in a year cost the city nearly $470,000;
- In 2013, police made 7,600 arrests for drunk in public offenses and many detained were part of the homeless community.
City Council President Todd Gloria recently claimed:
“Living on the streets is more expensive for taxpayers. It seems counterintuitive, but the overreliance on emergency rooms, on 911, on interaction with law enforcement is more expensive than to give them housing in a facility.”
Homeless facilities need to provide a variety of addiction therapies and services including a housing community designed to offer hope, education and tools to help people rebuild their lives. Learning to trust and develop skills to deal with addiction takes time to show progress.
The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and the Serial Inebriate Program (SIP) are successfully helping homeless alcoholics in the San Diego area. Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently announced the city’s intention to allocate $160,000 in the budget for HOT and SIP as part of a $1.9 million proposal to help the homeless.
It is difficult to calculate the exact number of homeless, but studies estimate the numbers to range between 1.5-3.5 million people including children, veterans, the mentally ill and a fast growing number of the elderly. Much more needs to be done to help the homeless, especially those who have substance abuse problems. It’s better for the individual, community, and the taxpayer’s bottom line.