Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Drugs - part 1

May 28 2009
Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery The relationship between homelessness and addiction or dependence on alcohol or drugs is well known. Research from the charity Crisis in 2003 found that more than half of homeless people had problems with drink, and 57 per cent were involved in some form of drug abuse. Figures from the same organisation in 2006 stated that four out of five homeless people had problems with substance misuse. Whether this means the numbers are going up is beside the point (at The Pavement we know better than to stick to statistics); but it does demonstrate the continued existence of addiction on the streets. The question is whether it being acknowledged. Anyone who has found themselves in a situation where they are trying to persuade a member of the public to donate money to rough sleepers or service users will, at one time, have been refused with a remark like "They'll only spend it on booze". Joe Public's view of street homelessness has been built from negative images of vagrancy; of people slumped in doorways with bottles covered by paper bags, or squats littered with discarded needles. And here comes the rub: in order to persuade the public that homelessness is a worthy cause, it seems that the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse has been swept neatly from high on the agenda, and the focus is instead on getting people through the housing system. It was 2003 when Big Issue founder John Bird began his 'Don't give money to beggars' campaign. "People who give are murdering whatever chance those people have of getting off the streets," Mr Bird said at the time. "By giving them money, you are effectively cementing them on to the streets because you are not giving them an alternative to street existence." The public warmed to his ideas, and in many cases this has had a positive impact; but with the continued need to generate funds, are charities only telling the public half the homeless story? Hostels offer drug and alcohol services, but it is said with a whisper, not proclaimed out loud. Homeless Link, the umbrella organisation hoping to end homelessness in London by 2012, does not even list addiction under its list of triggers that cause individuals to find themselves without a place to sleep each night, instead looking to the breakdown of relationships with friends or family, or problems with mortgage or rent payments. Perhaps because it is a trigger many would much rather not publicise? But surely, as any addiction counsellor will tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Are the organisations working with rough sleepers and service users in denial? And by being so, are they failing to help those who really need it? The negative stereotypes are, of course, untrue, but they are based on a certain reality: some people do have a crippling dependency on drink or drugs. It is all some people can think about each morning when they wake, or the only way they can fall asleep. For many, it is not the reason they are on the streets, but a coping mechanism. And this is nothing to be ashamed of: some of the most level-headed people need a pint after a tough day, and addiction is a recognised health problem with causes and affects just like any other medical condition. And moreover, there are means of treating or controlling it. Could glossing over the continued existence of high numbers of homeless people affected by drink and drug related problems mean that charities (exluding those who work specifically with addiction) can fundraise more easily? Many charitable organisations are in trouble financially, and at a time when they feel they need more funds than ever. The economic downturn that has spread from the United States to Europe is hitting the poorest hardest. In the UK, the number of repossession orders is expected to rise to 75,000 this year, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (Repossessions on the rise, issue 39) and trends in bankruptcy and unemployment follow the same upward line. To put this in plain English: the number of people in need of temporary accommodation, or even on the streets, is set to rise, right at a time when the charities working in this sector are strapped for cash. It is not a surprise; who gives money away when they cannot even pay the rent? Honesty is the best policy: acknowledging the need for specific support for rough sleepers who have found themselves burdened with an excessive drink- or drug-related problem is crucial. And the organisations working to help need to set the standard.
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