What cops and others who work daily with the homeless know but what the national media will not tell you is that a relatively small percentage of people are on the street with nowhere to go due to circumstances beyond their control.
A 2019 study of the homeless in LA found that “about 76%” of the homeless are on drugs or mentally ill. The vast majority of those are drug addicted. Cops and those who deal with the homeless daily will tell you the same thing and they will tell you that the real percentage is likely closer to 90%. Recently Mike Coffman, the Mayor of Aurora, Colorado spent a week living among the homeless in shelters and in camps. He reported his findings in the Denver Post. In the shelters he found “three categories of people experiencing homelessness: the mentally ill, the chronically homeless suffering from drug and alcohol addictions, and those displaced by economic circumstances who were finding work and using the shelter as a temporary means to save enough money to get back on their feet.” He found the shelter to be well staffed, clean, safe and offering a panoply of services to help those who want help to get off the street. There is another world among the homeless, however, the camps. They spring up alongside and under freeways and, in some cities, take up several city blocks. In some places they take over city parks. The campers want nothing to do with shelters and those who stay in shelters do not stay in the camps, which are as dangerous and wild as the shelters are safe. The encamped homeless, those folks we are most likely to see on the street, will not stay in shelters because of there are rules. They want to do drugs and they want to be able to panhandle and steal to feed their habit. They do not want to get clean and sober. Ask a cop how much money he regularly finds on the homeless campers he arrests or takes to the county hospital for a 48-hour hold. You will be surprised. I was.
Because of the public and private money flowing toward “the homeless crisis” there has arisen a veritable industry devoted to “battling homelessness.” It is in their interest to conflate the two populations. Thus, they report that only about 26% of “homeless” are addicted or mentally ill but like the persons with the sign near the high-end mall, the homeless services industry relies on your guilt and the growing chaos created by large urban (and suburban) homeless camps to generate the sorts of spending that are happening in LA and San Francisco, where each city is planning to spend a billion dollars to address “the homeless crisis” (i.e., the encampments). Are they going to build hospitals to house the chronically insane? No. Are they going to do a mass sweep and take thousands of addicts to detox and build drug treatment facilities? No. They are not going to do anything that will address the underlying problems.
Deacon, be compassionate but be informed. Get the training necessary to spot the signs of addiction and mental illness. Do you know how to look at someone’s eyes and see if they are high? Do you know where to look for tell-tale marks of drug use? Do you know what are the most widely used illegal drugs in your area? Have you talked to local service providers and to the cops, i.e., those who are in touch with the homeless daily about who are neighborhood “frequent fliers”? The hard truth is that, until she is ready to get clean, the only thing an addict wants is the next fix. She will say whatever she must get you to give her the cash she needs to buy more meth or opioids.
Politicians like to spend public money and stage photo opportunities in front of something tangible, like an apartment building but the drug crisis is a crisis of the soul and the connections between substance abuse and mental illness make the problem all the more difficult. The politician is not a pastor. The politician has nothing to say about the soul. When all one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Americans are addicted to substances because they are sinful and suffering from the effects (and affects) of the fall. Few addicts set out to become addicts. They start using in order to self-medicate and that leads to addiction and addiction can lead to mental illness (and not infrequently people who are battling a mental illness, e.g., bipolar disorder) will self-medicate with booze and drugs. What drug-addicted and mentally-ill sinners need is the grace of the gospel. Jesus saves addicts all the time but it is nigh unto impossible to talk to people who are out of their mind on drugs. It is casting pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). Addicts need tough love. It often takes more than 28 days to get sober and it usually takes more than one trip to detox and treatment. If Americans want to help the homeless, they will fund detox centers, drug treatment facilities, and hospitals for the chronically insane. The residential treatment model did not work to replace the hospital.
Deacon, handing money to the addict only feeds her habit. You and the church need to get involved in the life of addict who is trying to get and stay clean. The church, not AA or NA, is Christ’s institution for substance abusers. It is the place where sinners of all sorts ought to be able to come and say, “Hi, my name is Jo and I am a sinner in need of grace.” The addict does not need a Unitarian “higher power.” She needs the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The addict needs to get sober and she needs grace of Jesus and someone to lover her enough to say, “No, we will not give you cash but we will drive you to detox.” She needs someone who loves her enough to holding her hand as she goes through DT (delirium tremens) or opioid withdrawal. It is not as splashy as a new apartment complex “for the homeless” but it is what the addict really needs.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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