Tragically in our home city of Los Angeles, homelessness has hit an all-time high. Across districts like downtown, tents and benches are filled with people who are now living on the streets. To their credit, several shelters are starting to emerge and welcoming in people in need. But for many, there is one caveat: those entering must pass a sobriety test.
It is no surprise that addiction is one of the leading causes of homelessness. Issues like alcoholism and drug abuse often cause people to lose their jobs, their income and their families. If the habits continue, once prosperous citizens soon find themselves alone of the streets. This can be a compounded tragedy in many cases, as those without funds or insurance lack the necessary means to locate and enter treatment facilities.
This has certainly become a vicious cycle and one that puts shelter owners in a tough position. For starters, addicted people entering their doors can create quite a liability. Their behavior is often unpredictable, there is the strong possibility that they will bring substances into the facility and (worst case scenario) they may potentially overdose on the premises.
The Fix profiled the growing trend of sober-only homeless shelters on their website. Singling out the Billings-based Montana Rescue Mission, they published an honest Q&A with a program director; outlining the rationale for this ongoing shift. MarCee Neary spoke with the site, discussing the emotional hardships that go along with turning intoxicated people away. As he put it, logistics and safety play the biggest part in these decisions.
“It really does create a capacity issue,” he explained. “We also don’t have medically trained staff and we don’t have a professional security guard.”
That type of scenario is common among our local shelters as well. The Fix went on to reveal that roughly two-thirds of L.A’s chronically homeless population suffer from some type of substance abuse disorder. And there is no denying that distraught users can create havoc while intoxicated. Everything from fistfights, to disorderly conduct, to theft; if those afflicted find themselves in a desperate situation.
Another anonymous rep from a rescue mission was interviewed for the piece, emphasizing that additional funding may allow for a shift in the regulations. The prime issue, according to him, was a lack of staff and reduced resources to support addicted individuals.
“Our organization lacks the staff and funding to supervise active alcohol- and drug-abusers overnight,” the rep told the site. “And there are concerns about the safety of our team of two—a staff member and a volunteer—who manage the place each night.”
This is certainly a challenging situation and one that merits further conversations.