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A New Breed of Homeless

The Daily News By Peter Provet, Ph.D.

Drugs and homelessness are two of society’s most intractable problems, but they are not much in the news of late.

Neither presidential candidate have offered a coherent plan that addresses these intransigent social issues. And most Americans seem in denial about the problems of the poor, mentally ill, drug addicted and homeless.

If that’s the case, then it’s time the nation was jolted out of its indifference.

While some recent national statistics indicate positive movement on these fronts – namely, a slowing down in the number of new drug abusers from double to single digits – the demand for shelter beds is as high as ever, and those who need emergency housing remain desperate for intensive supportive services.

Today’s homelessness must be understood, in part, by how it is enveloping a greater segment of society through the effects of addiction.

Striking examples of this social breakdown are seen in the broad cross-section of homeless people entering residential drug treatment. The new homeless include senior citizens, mothers and children, adolescents, the mentally ill and those with serious medical conditions including tuberculosis and AIDS.

The stories of fragile lives torn apart by drugs and homelessness are endless and deeply moving: the pregnant woman mandated into drug treatment after being arrested for selling a small amount of crack, the adolescent who ran away from foster care and wound up living on the street selling his body, the 64-year-old heroin addict who sells his children’s possessions and is put out of their house, the schizophrenic crack addict who is discharged from a psychiatric hospital and stops taking her medication in favor of a delusional world.

For people like this, homelessness driven by drug abuse requires a response based on coordinated and comprehensive services. A place to live simply isn’t enough – a stable and secure “home” entails far more than a housing solution. In fact, a housing solution alone can serve as an enabler to the addict.

A comprehensive approach for the homeless drug abuser must consist of a rigorous course of residential drug treatment where:

-A commitment to a life of complete sobriety is firmly made.
The relationship between substance abuse and the lifestyle that it generates is deeply understood.

-Social learning takes place through constant peer feedback, both supportive and confrontational.

-Positive peer pressure fosters the adoption of positive values and a shared set of moral principles.

-Education and vocational training address skill deficits and prepare the individual for the workplace.

-Ongoing introspection leads to a stronger and more positive self-identity, so possibility and opportunity are seen where they have never been seen before.

Each homeless drug abuser must be guided, first and foremost, to find a home within. Society must be willing to invest time, energy and resources to help the homeless addict achieve this goal.

Our success in meeting the challenges of homelessness and drug abuse depends on our willingness, and our politicians’ determination, to invest in the lives of even our most troubled citizens.

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