Author: Shernide Delva
The complexity around homelessness and alcoholism is one that most people choose to ignore. It is easier to ignore the drunken panhandler on the street than consider the possible solutions to reduce the problem. However, for cities that struggle with a large homeless population, advocates fight for policies that will allow the homeless population to seek shelter despite their struggles with alcoholism. The question is, should homeless shelters require sobriety?
While there are people who want to help the homeless population, there are difficulties in helping people in these situations. Policies in communities around how homeless alcoholics are treated and housed in the community have long caused controversy Even if a homeless shelter caseworker can get a housing voucher for an individual; they have to find a landlord who is willing to rent to a street alcoholic. The reality is, according to surveys, 38% of homeless people abuse alcohol while 26% regularly use other drugs. These statistics confirm that drug addiction among the homeless population is significantly higher than the general population.
Let’s say a homeless person acquires access to a homeless shelter. At the shelter, there are very limited support services to help the client adapt and adjust to their new environment. Their alcoholism is rarely addressed nor is the psychological needs of the individual. As a result, they are often evicted which starts the cycle of homelessness all over again.
Whether or not homeless addicts should have access to resources is a complicated problem and no one is entirely at fault. On one hand, a homeless person with substance abuse problems could be a liability to those around them and the staff. On the other hand, this issue must be addressed because some cities spend tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through crisis services who take care of this population.
But is it Enabling ?
Some feel that homeless people who are under the influence should not be allowed to reside in a homeless shelter or have access to government assistance. They believe that allowing access to these resources could be enabling the person to continue using. After all, if they have access to these facilities while using, why stop? This is the exact reason why numerous shelters do not allow anyone who is under the influence of alcohol (at all) to stay. The thought has always remained to demand abstinence. Anything else just encourages the behaviors.
Other disagrees and offers other solutions. Bob Fowler is the executive director of the Milestone foundation. The facility has been operating out of Portland, Maine since 1967. Fowler believes that providing resources to people in need are better than denying them access at all. Sometimes harm reduction is a goal worth fighting for.
“For me, this is a basic harm reduction approach. The people we serve are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction as well as homelessness. Depriving shelter to these individuals won’t do a thing to help the addiction. Engagement and compassion, on the other hand, just might,” Fowler said in a recent interview.
There are two sides to every argument, and Fowler’s point of view does make sense. Perhaps housing concerns should be addressed before anything else. Instead of a person attempting sobriety before fixing the rest of their life, in this case, it may be better to provide resources prior to achieving sobriety. Finding homeless people a place to live first may provide them with the support they need to tackle their health concerns later. It provides a healthier existence, which could result in them choosing to drink less on their own.
This is an issue that will continue to raise controversy. In the same ways that harm reduction methods for drug addiction continue to raise controversy. Just recently, states like New York has implemented safe injection facilities that some argue are enabling people, rather than helping them in life after sobriety.
Still, there is something to be said about harm reduction programs. If anything, options like this need to be considered. The rates of overdoses continue to soar. If there is a way of reducing these numbers, it should be brought to the table. Options like these can at least be part of the solution. If your or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Cody Withrow, co-founder of I Am Improv, performing on stage.
Author: Shernide Delva
For many of us, the idea of stepping onstage and being asked to perform without a script sounds terribly frightening. However, as an addict, it could be just what you need to finally free yourself from years of being trapped in your chattering mind.
Improvisational comedy allows you to gain confidence and communicate in an expressive way. Over time, Improv can help you acquire skills such as being spontaneous, trusting others and listening that can transform your life after recovery.
Many addicts use drugs to feel happier, relax and free themselves from depression and anxiety. Improvisation has been proven to help with coping with those emotions. You will finally learn how to feel free and “high” without the use of drugs.
Social Anxiety disorders affect 15 million Americans. People with social anxiety often try to overcome their social anxiety through unhealthy habits like using drugs which can lead to a drug addiction. Improv has been studied to treat social anxiety. Researchers have seen a positive correlation between Improvisation and decreasing social anxiety.
So what is Improv?
Improvisational Comedy is defined as a form of live theater in which “the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment.” Like me, you may have heard about Improv from the popular television show from years ago called Whose Line is It Anyway. Improvisational acting is considered one of the hardest forms of acting to master because of the spontaneous nature of the art form. Everything is made up and unrehearsed.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cody Withrow, one of the co-founders of the Improv troupe I Am Improv. Along with licensed therapist, Mike Berger, the improv troupe I Am Improv conducts workshops and performs all throughout South Florida at various venues, theaters and rehab facilities.
Withrow elaborated on how Improv was able to transform him on a personal level after years of being consumed by a drug addiction to opioids. He took the time to talk about how he feels other recovering addicts could benefit from participating in improv.
How did you get involved in improv?
Withrow: I’ve done improv for the past 26 years; I just didn’t know it was improv. I’ve always been making up and doing very funny stuff but about a year and half ago, I met a friend named Mike. After meeting, we thought to ourselves ‘Why don’t we start doing something that incorporates comedy?’ and we thought ‘Wow, what about improv?’ We’ve heard of improv classes. Long story short, we got an improv book, we brought it to a friend’s apartment and we started doing improv games. They were hilarious. We joined a drop in class, we met a teacher, started auditing classes and it kind of went from there.
Can you describe how Improv has helped you grow on a personal level?
Withrow: It’s made me more confident. I didn’t actually think that was going to happen at all. I didn’t think there would be any improvement. But what happens in the theater, it goes into life and vice versa. So art imitates life; Life imitates art. Since doing scenes, I’d be more confident. I would yell more. I could do boisterous characters. It actually let me be freer. I call it spiritual lubricant. I felt like I was lubricating myself spiritually. I felt like I was able to do more stuff adaptable in the real world because I was getting this kind of life practice in improv scenes. It was very interesting.
I definitely found a new respect for my body and I realized an actor’s ultimate key is the body. It helped me get in touch with my awareness of my recovery with drugs. A lot of it was done because of how much I hated myself. I never liked my body or my body image. So improv was really about embracing this body I have as a tool in order for me to embrace these characters, to sing and dance and to try different movement.
You mentioned your addiction. Can you go further into your drug addiction?
Withrow: Yes I can. I was addicted to pain killers for years, five years. I got on them at 17. I started smoking weed at 15 or 14. I knew off the bat I was an addict because I wanted more and more and more. Weed wasn’t enough. I took painkillers. Painkillers wasn’t enough. Actually it was. I just needed more and more of them. I became homeless. Parents kicked me out. I was a mess. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I cashed bad checks. I wasn’t even a person anymore. I was like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, just this skinny frail creature that lived outside and did anything to get high.
How did getting involved with improv help in your recovery process?
Withrow: Improv was not involved at all with my immediate recovery. It wasn’t until I had five years of sobriety that improv was involved. I will say that laughter and playing around was always there but I didn’t know it was improv.
But yes, improv can definitely be used in the early stages of recovery. I wasn’t aware of the tools but improv can help with many things. First of all, it gets you out of your mind. The cool thing is you get kind of thrown into the present moment and the improv games are best done without thinking. The more you think, the more you’re–I don’t want to say wrong, but the more it’s kind of off.
The good thing about improv is the yes-and factor. Yes-and which is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is accepting everything you do exactly the way it is. So with improv, you do a game called three things where you say, ‘Give me three things!’ : Give me three birds. Give me three cars. You can literally say anything and we count it. ‘Oh that’s one, two, and three!’
It sounds so silly but it’s amazing to be a recovering addict and to be given ‘You’re right no matter what’. Everything is going to be okay no matter what; that kind of radical acceptance. We’re told doing improv games, ‘Go quick! Go quick! Go quick!’ The quicker you are, the more you’re out of your head.
What tools learned in improv can apply to life for a recovering addict?
Withrow: The comradery: Most improv games, they’re interactive with people. Laughing is contagious. Laughing is more contagious than drugs are. When you start laughing with people, the love is so much stronger. You can’t shake that. And when you got someone giggling and someone else is laughing while someone else is laughing and someone else is being silly; they open up in a whole new way.
Using improv is an interactive skill. It actually helps you to learn better. Addicts don’t do well sitting in a classroom […] They need to see it, they need to feel it. Improv is an interactive thing, an interactive teaching school, where it develops on many different skill sets: listening, communicating, using your body and addicts have to be interactive. They need to be stimulated.
How can introverts be involved? A lot of addicts deal with social anxiety or may have been introverts. What can you say to motivate someone who’s too intimidated to get involved?
Withrow: Good Question. Improv is best done like recovery is best done. The beginning of the first step is ‘We.’ The first word ‘We’. We are powerless. We admitted we are powerless, and that our lives have become unmanageable. So when I’m doing a workshop, we never throw anybody out in the middle of the circle. All the games are done together in unison and that’s the best way to do it.
When you see other people being silly, it gives you permission so we like to give everybody permission together. We never want to single anybody out and I think it takes time to to develop wanting to do a scene by yourself. But in the beginning, we do group games that require all unison, everybody’s doing it together. No one is not doing something. There is definitely a risk, no matter what, there is a risk that has to be taken.
Are you ready to take the risk? If you’re eager to delve in or simply watch a show, you can find more information on the I Am Improv website and locate events on their Facebook page.
Ultimately, getting out of your comfort zone helps tremendously in your life after recovery. Finding new activities such as joining an Improv class can be a healthy way of “feeling high” without the use of drugs or alcohol. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Dude, you going to eat that? Why can’t I stay out late? Who has an extra smoke? These are a few of the questions anyone who has lived in a Sober Living House has either asked or heard at least once. Recovery sometimes requires a little humility, new found stability, and in some cases a good reason not to kill your roommates. These are the things we find ourselves complaining about, as if we forget where some of us come from in active addiction. They say the struggle is real, so let’s talk about some of the little things in life that become what we like to call “Sober House Problems”.
Sometimes you’re the first one to leave, the last one home, and the ONLY one who knows how to use a broom. You find yourself scrubbing dishes, and forget about what it’s like to eat everything off a paper-plate in a basement. Do your best to remember, for a lot of us our living conditions were anything but decent in active addiction, so try and clean your room.
So maybe there is about 12 bottles of body wash, shampoo, and face-scrubs in your bathroom and yet your roommates smell like they are allergic to all of it- like you never missed a shower in your life! Now the only problem is, how to decide who gets first dibs on the shower. Good thing you have this beautiful thing called running water.
Socks, T-shirts, even your favorite heart pattern underwear are not safe! Somehow stuff always goes missing. Then you can wait hours for someone in the house to finish their laundry to get a chance to do your whites. Still you find clothes that seem to be made of paper mache under places like the couch or even the kitchen sink. The best part is, YOU probably left it there.
Dude, you gonna eat that? This may be my personal favorite! Getting half-way through a burger and having your best friend walk in and eat the rest before you have a chance to notice he’s there, or the infamous “someone ate my peanut butter” panic! Don’t forget to be grateful you actually eat these days, instead of an all drugs diet! Hope you’re hungry because someone just whipped up a fresh batch of “Sober House Problems” for you.
O-M-G! How are we supposed to do ANYTHING in the given 15+ hours of the day before curfew?! Seriously, as an adult I have to be home by when?! I must say, the best part about having a ‘bed-time’ is having an actual bed to sleep in, for anyone who knows how comfy a neighbor’s lawn-chair feels in the winter.
The Smokers Struggle
So if you smoke cigarettes at a sober living house, it’s likely you have given away more in the past month than you have personally smoked. Not one of you roommates ever has a pack, and you often try to sneak off to light-up. I mean helping others is one thing, but seriously, you need your nicotine, right?! Better buy a vape, bro!
Of course we can’t forget the disputes over the TV. Ladies might need to cat fight over watching Real Housewives or Teen Mom 27, and guys might argue about watching the last few games of the season over playing Call of Duty! Your roommate wants to check his fantasy football league, and all you want is call in an Apache helicopter. Or maybe she just needs to study how to get rich for doing nothing, and you want to see who the baby-daddy is. God forbid someone take time away from the TV to do something productive like… I don’t know…Step Work?
The Opposite Sex
Photo Credit: www.wifflegif.com
Most sober houses have a strict ‘no visitors policy’ with the opposite sex. Weird right? Not even a ‘sleep over’ or a ‘movie night’ once in a while. We are only people addicted to anything that can give us pleasure, why would sex complicate recovery? So maybe someone gets too comfy. Who wouldn’t want to raise a family in a halfway house?
Forced to drink water and feel uncomfortable for a whole 5 minutes! What a bummer it is to submit to a drug test, someone standing guard while you use the restroom to fill a cup. How inconvenient! They act like known drug addicts and alcoholics would be going out and getting high or drinking in a sober house, that’s just stupid! By the way, is Spice a relapse?
Going to Meetings
It must be so hard for some people to actually get up, go to work, and then go to a meeting. If they even have a job. Sobriety should just come from living in the sober house, right? Isn’t that why it’s called that, or are you actually expected to participate? There are just too many scheduling conflicts between the pressing stuff we fill our day with like sitting at Starbucks and going to the gym, who even has time for getting sober and saving our lives? Such is the paradox of life I guess.
Sober house problems are no joke! OK, maybe- yes that’s exactly what they are. Seriously, we live a large portion of our lives abusing drugs and alcohol, ourselves and our families, and we think we are too good for a few rules and requirements? The little insignificant troubles now, in my experience, are nothing compared to the misery I faced every single day when doing things my way with no sobriety and no people to suggest a solution for me. The sober living house I have called home saved my life, more than once, and as much as any of these things can push our buttons can we at least admit that if faced with all of these on a regular basis versus the life we had we are still luckier than most like us who never make it that far? So let us take some time to let our “Sober House Problems” go, and be grateful to have a home in sobriety.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
It is often thought by many people that every homeless person is out on the streets begging for money to feed their addiction. This stigma has lead to misinformation about what causes those who are homeless and addicted to become homeless and/or addicted in the first place. So what came first? The homelessness or the addiction? And how can we prevent the cycle from repeating itself? That’s the real conversation we should be having the next time we find ourselves talking about the homeless.
Substance Abuse and Homelessness – Reasons for Homelessness
1. Domestic Violence
2. Loss of Employment
5. Runaway Youth
6. Mental Illness, PTSD, Grief
7. No Support System/Family/Friends (Due to broken relationships)
Substance Abuse and Homelessness – Cause and Effect
The relationship between homelessness and addiction is tricky because stereotypes (that all homeless people are full blown addicts) often blind people to other possibilities like domestic violence or loss of employment. We automatically tend to see homelessness and addiction in a cause and effect matter; because you are addicted then you are homeless or vice versa. An addicted person may very well be homeless but their homelessness did not necessarily cause their addiction. They could’ve been addicted beforehand and things spiraled downward into them becoming homeless. Whatever the case may be the truth is that substance abuse is a disease that takes treatment to overcome.
Sometimes substance abuse does cause homelessness and in that case it can be due to strained relationships at home and work that can cause a person to lose their family and job. When a person loses their job they are much more likely to lose their housing (since millions of Americans are using up to 50% of their income on housing). According to the United States Conference of Mayors, who asked 25 cities for their top three causes of homelessness, substance abuse came in as the number one reason for single adults. Substance abuse was also mentioned by 12% of the cities as one of the top three if not the number one cause of homelessness for families.
Substance Abuse and Homeless – The Addicted Homeless Population
More than 3 million people experience homelessness every year, with 1.3 million of them being children.
According to a December, 2000 report of the US Conference of Mayors:
- single men comprise 44 percent of the homeless, single women 13 percent, families with children 36 percent, and unaccompanied minors seven percent.
- the homeless population is about 50 percent African-American, 35 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American and 1 percent Asian.
According to the 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC):
- single homeless individuals in 1996 reported an average income of $348 during the last 30 days, about 51 percent of the 1996 federal poverty level of $680/month for one person.
- 28 percent said they sometimes or often do not get enough to eat, compared with 12 percent of poor American adults.
- 44 percent did paid work during the past month.
- 21 percent received income from family members or friends.
- 66 percent of the homeless have problems with alcohol, drug abuse, or mental illness.
- 22 percent have been physically assaulted.
- 7 percent have been sexually assaulted.
- 38 percent say someone stole money or things directly from them.
- 30 percent have been homeless for more than two years.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that around 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused drugs. Substance abuse is also much more common among homeless people than it is in the general population too.
Another statistic points out that not only are the cities saying substance abuse is the reason for homelessness but the homeless are saying substance abuse is the reason they are homeless. Two-thirds of homeless people state drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless.
Unfortunately homelessness makes it very hard to treat substance abuse not only because of financial reasons. Being homeless also makes it hard to treat any health condition not including substance abuse. In fact many people who are homeless deal with:
- Mental health problems
- Bronchitis and pneumonia
- Wound and skin infections
- Substance abuse problems
- Mental health problems
- Behavioral problems
- Domestic and sexual abuse
All of these in addition to homelessness and substance abuse can make it very difficult for anyone to get clean or well again. It is hard enough for those with a substance abuse problem along with trauma to get well; it is even harder if the person is homeless. Many homeless people have no support and no money to get treatment. Yet according to the United States Conference of Mayors, 28% said substance abuse treatment/services are needed to help combat homelessness. Many Americans with substance abuse dependencies, both housed and homeless do not receive the treatment they need. In fact, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD) estimated that in 2005, over 19.3 million people needed, but did not receive, addiction treatment services.
Substance abuse is not only the cause of homelessness but is also the result so in order for the homeless to combat their substance abuse they must also deal with their homelessness. It is much harder for someone who is homeless to get help and then go back to living on the street without using. That is why there are supported housing programs. Successful supported housing programs include outreach and engagement workers, a variety of flexible treatment options to choose from, and services to help people reintegrate into their communities (National Mental Health Association, 2006).
If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-951-6135.
According to The National Center on Family Homelessness there are close to 1.6 million homeless children in America. Homeless youth are individuals under the age of 18 who don’t have any parental, foster, or institutional care. Homeless youth are sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth. The cause of homeless youth falls into three categories which are family problems, economic problems and residential instability. Many homeless youth will finally leave home after years of sexual abuse, physical abuse, strained relationships, addiction or parent neglect. Either reason, most of the time it is because of an unstable family environment that youth will leave home.
In fact more than half of the youth interviewed during a nationwide study said that their parents knew they were leaving and didn’t care or asked them to leave. In other research it was shown that 46% of homeless youth had been physically abused and 17% were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member. Believe it or not but foster care can also lead to homelessness among youth. A history of foster care is directly related to youth becoming homeless at an earlier age. Because they are so young and homeless, many youth do not have the ability to pay for what they need, including caring for their mental health. In fact homeless youth are so bad off that they will end up exchanging sex for food, clothing and shelter to survive on the streets. This leads to a higher rate of illnesses such as HIV and AIDS. The percentage of homeless youth infected with HIV is around 5%, this could be higher because not every homeless youth gets tested.
Homeless youth also suffer from severe mental health issues for which they can’t get help for. For instance homeless youth often suffer from severe anxiety and depression, poor health and nutrition and low self-esteem. Not just that but they also suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. It has been found that homeless youth are three times more likely to suffer from a mental health issue than a youth with a home. This means they are three times more likely to suffer from major depression, conduct disorder, and post-traumatic stress syndrome in comparison to youth who have not run away.
Here are some more facts on the homeless youth and mental health from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Facts on Trauma and Homeless Children:
- Homeless youth are sick at twice the rate of other children. They suffer twice as many ear infections, have four times the rate of asthma, and have five times more diarrhea and stomach problems.
- Homeless youth go hungry twice as often as non-homeless children.
- More than one-fifth of homeless preschoolers have emotional problems serious enough to require professional care, but less than one-third receive any treatment.
- Homeless youth are twice as likely to repeat a grade compared to non-homeless children.
- Homeless youth have twice the rate of learning disabilities and three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems of non-homeless children.
- Half of school-age homeless youth experience anxiety, depression, or withdrawal compared to 18 percent of non-homeless children.
- By the time homeless youth are eight years old, one in three has a major mental disorder.
- SAMSHA estimates that 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs.
If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-951-6135.