Homelessness, Addiction, Mental Illness & Recovery

Gaining Insight

I have an alcoholic friend who has relapsed. He was turned away from a long-term recovery and job training program at a local homeless shelter because he takes Paxil. The shelter told him that they didn’t have the facilities to treat people with mental health issues.

You would think that someone who is regularly and voluntarily taking their anti-anxiety medication would be a prime candidate for a program like this. He’s clearly a person who’s trying to get his shit together.

I do understand where the shelter is coming from though. Where do they draw the line on the intake of homeless men with mental health issues? But anxiety? I bet that co-exists with every addiction! Fortunately, my friend has another recovery resource, but most aren’t that lucky. Most would be forced to go back on the street and continue to feed their illness.

More than 124,000 – or one-fifth – of the 610,000 homeless people across the USA suffer from a severe mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re gripped by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression — all manageable with the right medication and counseling but debilitating if left untreated. In the absence of such care, their plight costs the federal government millions of dollars a year in housing and services and prolongs their disorders.” – USA Today, http://usat.ly/14quZv7

I would guess that the majority of homeless individuals are dealing with some kind of mental health issue. I know that the majority of addicts are. For most, the addiction itself, no matter the substance, is self-medication. I know mine was.

Fortunately, my bottom wasn’t a low one; and I didn’t drink myself out of a home or a job. (Yet…) After five years of sobriety I realized that my recovery wasn’t going to be just about working a program, but also about dealing with some underlying physical, chemical issues that fed my feelings of insecurity, anxiety and depression. I am blessed to have the money and insurance to pay for a therapist and a psychiatrist and meds. I can’t begin to tell you how much those things have transformed my life for the better. But the majority of people in this country, not only the homeless, don’t have affordable access to mental health care.

As intertwined as the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health are, and as much as they cost the US, we have to find a way to create an integrated solution that is available and accessible for all citizens of the United States.

‘We learned that you could either sustain people in homelessness for $35,000 to $150,000 a year, or you could literally end their homelessness for $13,000 to $25,000 a year,’ he said.” – PolitiFact, http://bit.ly/1Bci5Oq

In this country where we continue to proclaim ourselves “exceptional,” everyone who wants a second-chance – a new beginning – deserves one. But you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if nobody will help you get a pair of boots.

No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

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