Although written for the UK, I felt this article was both timely and useful for us here in the USA. Homelessness is an insidious blight to our society. That we allow this to be says quite a lot about us as a people, I think.
This is an interesting article from the Guardian on Facebook. I highly recommend you check them out and read other interesting articles they have there. This article, for me, is just too sad. It’s also sad to see, here in print, that this is a global issue, not a local one. With our global economy in the tank, homelessness is on the rise. What do we plan to do about it? Anything?
Wednesday 21 December 2011
It’s not the weather that tends to kill homeless people – it’s a descent into addiction and a dearth of services catering to them
A new report from Crisis highlights the short life expectancy of people who live on the streets – just 47 years, which is 30 fewer than the general population. How can we start to unknot the various and intricate threads that lead up to someone finding refuge in a car park at three in the morning, trying to find a safe place for the night?
In a relatively temperate climate such as ours, not having a roof over your head seldom is the killer. Not in my experience anyway. The homeless people I’ve once known who passed away either drank themselves to a jaundiced death, or hanged themselves because they couldn’t set themselves free from heroin. When you appreciate that waiting lists for help with addiction are frustratingly lengthy for those who do have a home, then you begin to understand how precious little it amounts to when a homeless person has a brief moment of clarity in a sleeping bag. You can’t just hang in there until 8am and call your GP. There’s no referral letters for treatment through the post, no phone calls from a key worker confirming an appointment for the following week. No peck on the cheek from a relieved spouse as you have a quick shave and disappear off to an AA or NA meeting, hope restored.
Homelessness and addiction, the perennial Catch-22. It’s nigh on impossible to separate these two; you’d call them bedfellows, only in this instance, there is no bed. And when there’s no bed, it’s hardly down to a lack of willpower if you’re going to use drugs or drink to numb your sense of helplessness and isolation: four out of five people start using at least one new drug after becoming homeless. That’s some bleak statistic.
The Crisis report finds that a third of all deaths amongst the homeless are attributed to alcohol or substance abuse. Can those numbers ever be brought down? Well, how can you realistically turn your life around under such circumstances? We are always told that health should come first, but is this possible when you haven’t got a fixed address? Specialised services catering to those on the streets do exist in some places, but just as postcodes can be pivotal in our children’s education, they also play a part in support for the homeless. It’s a rather cruel irony when you haven’t actually got a postcode to begin with.
Speaking to my local homeless charity here in Exeter, it was pleasing to know that the centre organises GP visits, which are scheduled on a regular basis – an encouraging fact, yet you can’t help but wonder why this can’t be a given regardless of where you are living. Immediate health advice (including mental health – homeless people are nine times more likely to kill themselves than the general population) and reliable support is of paramount importance to those living on the streets. When you’ve experienced how hopeless addiction can feel, it’s more than likely that substance abuses and suicides are one and the same statistic, and it desperately needs to be addressed holistically.
So, where to start? Sadly, the downturn has brought with it an almost inevitable increase in homelessness. Never was there such a poor time to cut back on budgets, yet with our government-led savings of up to 65% in key services who cater to vulnerable people, it seems unlikely that we’ll see any kind of improved outreach or support any time soon.