A common misconception about people who are homeless is that their homelessness is a direct result of long-term drug and alcohol abuse. While this is true for some individuals, it is not an accurate reflection of the majority. In actuality, most people who are homeless don’t struggle with addiction until after they have become homeless.
Usually, the case is that a person who is homeless starts using alcohol or drugs to cope with the hardships that being homeless brings. But because societal norms lead us to overlook any factors that could be catalysts for substance abuse and to instead scrutinize only the addiction itself, many people stigmatize those who are homeless for using substances rather than looking at the full scope of the issue.
People who are homeless experience a myriad of harsh conditions while living on the streets. They struggle to find food, attempt to manage chronic physical or mental health conditions without enough resources to do so, are away from loved ones, experience threats of violence, and have limited options for safe places to sleep at night – unless they are sheltered, which isn’t always reliable. Each of these scenarios is traumatic enough on its own, yet individuals can experience multiple in a given day. It’s clear, then, why someone who is homeless would eventually turn to drugs or alcohol to try and cope with their circumstances, especially if they don’t have access to the support they seriously need.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has found that 26% of people who are homeless are dependent on harmful chemicals. These harmful chemicals include drugs like fentanyl, heroin, crack, and meth. They are more accessible to people who are homeless and are more expensive than desperately needed healthcare and psychiatric services.
“There is less support being given to our population,” said Demaree Miller, Program Director of At The Crossroads, in her recent interview with ABC 7’s KGO-TV.
Lack of support around addiction and stigmas about drug use make substance abuse even deadlier for people who are homeless. During the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions experienced by individuals who are homeless only worsened, causing a spike in drug use among the homeless population. In 2020, 713 individuals died of fatal drug overdoses in San Francisco alone.
It is vital to recognize that drug abuse among people who are homeless does not typically occur before their homelessness begins. The stigma that all individuals who are homeless are drug users is also inaccurate, and adopting this belief only causes harm to the people who need help the most. If you believe someone might need help, San Francisco has a 311 number to call if outreach or other resources are required. The San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (415-734-4233) or the San Francisco Mobile Crisis Treatment Team (415-970-4000) are also readily available.