Housing first works well for people whose only issue is being homeless. But in Abbotsford, do we have many people whose only issue is homelessness? Very few, if any.
The vast majority are drug addicts and substance abusers. For these people, the addiction issues must be addressed first.
Our homeless population has been estimated at 151 people. Factor in the number of persons with addictions, which is as high as 80 per cent (according to Barry Shantz, leader of the Abbotsford chapter of Drug War Survivors), and we’re left with 121 people with substance abuse issues.
Supplying shelter without treatment is simply enabling the destructive behaviour that made them homeless in the first place.
Homelessness for the substance abuser doesn’t happen overnight. It begins with dabbling in drugs simply for the pleasure of getting high. Over time, the usage increases to a point where the cost of the drug starts affecting the ability to pay bills, and so the addict starts falling behind financially.
They start lying to friends and family and ask to borrow money. A commonly heard excuse is that they are down on their luck and short of money to pay for living expenses, when in reality they’ve used the rent/mortgage/grocery money to buy drugs. Eventually, the addict loses his job. Friends and family are alienated as they realize the more they give to the addict, the more he demands. Some have possessions stolen by the addict. An addict is a master manipulator, and they watch helplessly as he spirals out of control and ends up on the street.
At this point putting a roof over his head simply provides him with a comfortable place to slowly kill himself. Those of us who continue to rationalize and make excuses for his behaviour are not helping him, we are enabling him.
What the addict needs foremost is to stop using the drugs because it’s the drugs that are destroying his life.
The answer is addiction treatment first, housing second. Addiction treatment, consisting first of a detox bed and placement in a long-term rehabilitation centre, needs to be available to every addict. We can only hope the addict chooses to accept the help and services being offered, but if not, then he must continue his path of destruction on his own.
Jackie Newman, Abbotsford