Op-Ed: Addressing Homelessness Begins With Addressing Addiction

by Gabriella Duncan

It’s time to stand up to the challenges caused by homelessness and addiction, bleeding out into our communities. People should always be first!

The hardest thing to address, regarding homelessness, is addiction. A key component to homelessness is that addiction will need to be addressed before success in tiny villages can be achieved.

Harm reduction and education about addiction are necessary to keep our entire community safe. We need to change the pervasive images and perceptions we hold of addicts. We assume addicts enjoy what they do when, in fact, they often are simply managing the incredibly terrifying pain of withdrawal. These withdrawals can be dangerous or even fatal! We take our own strengths and compare them with those who are weak with addiction. There is no, possible comparison!

I have only experienced addiction second hand, but it was at a price I would not choose to pay.

It is more acceptable to be an addict when you’re housed.  This makes addiction even harder to battle along with the apathy of the housed who are able to hide their addictions, behind four walls and still point their privileged fingers at those who don’t. People make mistakes all the time, housed or not.

Just as we would respect a person’s right to keep their illness a personal matter, we should respect a person’s right to keep their addiction as a personal matter. Over time, drug use becomes a way to medicate the illness it has now become.

“After a while you don’t get high anymore, you just get well from the sickness. It is no longer enjoyable, it is a necessity!”

Though self-inflicted, addiction affects the person’s ability to change. Something that has such a foot-hold on a human being, no matter how it came into being, is a tragedy! The only choice you get is the first one, and you will have relinquished all power and self-control there after! Recovery time is indefinite.

The shamefulness of addiction, as I see it, is painful, regretful and a form of slavery, until -hopefully – you are one of the lucky ones who has support WHILE you deal with it.

Until an addict is ready to face the intensity of the incredible amount of willpower it takes to quit, they should be cared for – just like everyone else in need. To help them remain safe, cared for and shown compassion is to reflect their value.

There is no protection for those who need protection from themselves, until they are ready. Drug addiction, while on the streets, requires a very deep compassion and ability to forgo some battles when it is coupled with the mind boggling journey of homelessness.

I asked someone who hangs out in a park known for IV drug users, why people threw their needles in the bushes – sometimes right out in the open. Their answer was the wisest I had yet known. “There’s no receptacles to put them in so if you throw it in the trash it puts the guys throwing the trash out at risk of pricking themselves with a needle. If you put it in the bushes, in sight but out of reach, it makes it easier to pick up for those who clean the park with grabbers. This makes it safer because, the syringe being in plain sight, allows the person disposing of it a certain level of safety.” This was a house-less addict, with a conscious and careful reason for doing as they do. In an odd sort of way it made sense, given the maturity level, of the far too young addict, I got schooled from.

I would rather help humans experiencing drug addiction by providing what’s needed for safety and proper disposal, thus reducing the need for crime to sustain addiction.

I am not accusing anyone of poverty pawn pimping, (my favorite street side term.)  I am asking those concerned with the issue of homelessness to reevaluate themselves. Maybe there is another way to address things without isolating or further marginalizing people with issues we do not, ourselves, fully understand.

It is never, never the time, regardless of your status, to turn your back on neighbors suffering for any reason! Changing the way we perceive human beings by recognizing the human, FIRST, is the only way to deal with homelessness!

Photo Credit: Tracie Louise

Gabriella Duncan is a South Seattle based poet, comedian, and homeless advocate. She is also a retired social work and educator, and a current camp advisor at Camp Dearborn.

5 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Addressing Homelessness Begins With Addressing Addiction”

  1. We need to start with prevention. I do not know what the percentage of addicts who mange to get and stay clean is but I doubt if it is more than 10%. How do the get hooked? Often it is from legal prescriptions. If you get a prescription for one of the oxycodone drugs, Percocet, Tylox Percodan, Vicodin, etc you have a potent narcotic. If you take a couple of tables when you do not have intense pain, you can become addicted. It only takes a couple of exposures and you are an addict.

    You may not be able to get another prescription but Heroin is available and very inexpensive. It only takes a couple of hits and the monkey is on our back.

    If you have a tooth removed particularly if it is a wisdom tooth, it is almost a given that you will be given a prescription. Advil has been shown to be just as effective if taken properly and you do not have to be worry about addiction. It is said that the way to get a patient out of your office is to write a prescription. A good start toward prevention is holding our prescription writers to proper pain control techniques. No I am not suggesting that pain should not be treated. It should be treated wisely. Pharmacists know who the offenders are. The offending prescribers should be controlled by their state boards.

    Every person who is prevented from becoming addicted is a giant step toward solving this problem.

  2. I agree with you in as far as the “self-contained user” goes, it is the criminal behavior of those users who prey upon others that is the equated with the drug use itself that generates the social stigma, media hype, and political hoopla. If someone robs a bank to make his house payment we don’t hear a public debate about outlawing mortgages. If someone knocks off a liquor store to hit the casino, no one screams shut down pango. If a bully takes our kids lunch money and buys candy with the ill-gotten gain, no one thinks ah-ha Brach’s is to blame!

    We recognize that the it’s the criminal behavior that is the problem. Why do we have such a blatant double standard? Why the leap frog of logic? With the legalization of marijuana in our state have we seen the massive increase in crime that we were supposedly preventing when we were arresting and jailing people for what hipsters are now openly doing on their front porch?
    Although I believe the hardest thing to address in homelessness is the lack of homes, employment and addictions run second and third.

    Nice job Gabby!

    1. I totally get housing is the first step. People who live with people who use cannot stay clean. One cannot keep their own soul free when you live with it unless you are resilient, even the strongest get worn down, unable to sleep unless they have that hit of whiskey just to fall asleep. Nothing they ever would have intentionally and later becomes a real problem. Housing, isn’t happening! I just saw another friend, four months on the street and suffering tremendously..

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