“Don’t you people have a home to go to?” This came from a frustrated store owner trying to rid his store of loiterers.
Even on the streets you will sometimes hear the same comments from people who often feel like they are the ones that have to move over for street dwellers.
The sad truth is that for many of these folks on the street, they don’t have a home. For a whole variety of reasons, they are without the amenities you and I enjoy, and I must admit sometimes take for granted.
I have, over the past several years of writing this column, given many of the reasons that these good folks are without a home or a lot of the other things we enjoy, so I shouldn’t have to go over them again; but I will spell out a few to emphasize my point.
Minimum wage and mental conditions no matter how slight are the most common reasons, but then there are those who through addictions are homeless. Deserved — some will tell you, but not if we take a closer look.
For most, bunking with someone else works for a while until there is a conflict. With addictions there usually is. For the rest they will find some kind of sheltered area in which to crash, even if for only a few hours; lobbies, doorways, stairwells, any spot where they can lay down. You can always see where they slept because they leave their drug paraphernalia wherever they were.
Alcoholics just keep drinking until they pass out. They usually are past the point of caring, so, you will find them almost anywhere, no shelter needed.
The question remains, do we help by trying to save their lives, or just let nature take its course?
A person on the street with no home, and an addiction, will have one primary focus in mind; feed the addiction. That usually will take up every waking moment of their day; the urge is that strong. Anyone who thinks that if ignored, the problem will go away. It’s not going to happen. The sooner we realize that, the closer we can be to some helpful solutions.
Enter Housing First, a partial solution with excellent results. The idea behind this concept is that if people are permanently housed they will change, which now has proven to be true. Even here in Red Deer we have seen the results. You see, a permanently housed alcoholic, after a short while, will consume much less simply because he is not anxious about where his next drink will come from. When a drug addict always knows he has a place to sleep, he will also reduce his usage.
Not that there aren’t problems associated with this reduction attempt; the project requires 24/7 supervision, for security and constant need for counselling. Just because the person may use less, their mental and emotional issues remain and have to be dealt with.
Any monies that these folks receive goes to agencies that provide this type of housing; first the rent comes out of it and then they are given the rest. In some cases the balance is doled out to them at intervals, but it has to be with their consent. This assures that they have money available for longer periods of time.
Whether this is the best solution or not, it is a tremendous step towards harm reduction, and one that has been proven to work. This is the type of help we should be leaning towards.
At least these good people who have gone awry have a place to lay their heads.
Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potter’s Hands ministry in Red Deer.