Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Broken Alcohol/Drug System

They Have it All Wrong

I am sitting in a meeting--minding my own business--not bothering anyone--when I am smacked right up side my head by another failed system in our community. I am listening to the presentations of why people sleep at the airport, and the problems with homeless people when a woman from the Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services Board of Cuyahoga County pipes up that she can assure us that she can get an "assessment" of those people sleeping at the airport within three days. She could not tell us how long it would take to get treatment, but at least we would have a confirmed diagnosis of alcohol or drug addiction within 72 hours. Thank you for nothing. What the hell good is that to the community? The smell of alcohol and the unresponsiveness was my first indication that there was a problem beyond the casual after work cocktail, but of course I can't pass out those certifications.

Imagine the riots in the streets if you showed up at MetroHealth with a gun shot wound and they rushed out within three hours to "assess" you with a diagnosis of an lacerated artery that will need surgery. Then the kind nurse informed you that the doctors were not available and there is no time frame when that surgery could actually happen, but at least you can rest easy with your certified diagnosis. Yes, Rest in Peace easy. How could this ever be considered progress? What is the use in telling someone they have a problem if you are not prepared to solve it. "Frank, you have colon cancer, now go out and enjoy the rest of the day because we have no idea when we can do anything else." And for someone with an addiction telling them that they have an addiction, but that you have no idea when or how you will treat them without money is just what they need to hear to keep them from drinking or injecting.

I would quit my job before I would ever brag that a three day assessment is progress. More people in the homeless community have a drug or alcohol problem than a mental health problem and yet the Alcohol Services get a tiny amount of money compared to Mental Health. It is a joke, and they should just close their doors. At this point, I really think that they do more harm then good in our community. Most of the beds were purchased by the courts so basically you have to go to jail to get residential treatment. You really have to way to cure yourself to get help and then they will let you go to volunteer driven AA classes or you have to be near death and they will give you a couple of days of detox. How does this help us?

I don't want people to think that we do not appreciate the work of the alcohol and drug case workers, but the best in the business get burnt out quickly. It is strange because alcohol and drugs hit the wealthy, the middle class and the poor, but we do a pathetic job of treating this health condition. You really have to destroy your life, the life of others around you, burn all your bridges and most of the time commit a crime before someone sends you some help. Then we punish you with a shelter and force you to live by some rules until you have are sufficiently repentant that you no longer have the addiction. At least, we now can assure that you will get assessed within three days.

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.


Kevin E. Cleary said...

That is one of my biggest beefs with many of the shelters. People from all economic demographics can struggle with addictions of any kind. But there is a sort of condescending attitude that seems to dominate the shelter system.

I understand that for many people, there is a need to deal with their addiction because it is a stumbling block to their progress. But, I think many more people are just self-medicating because the circumstances of their life have sunk. It's depressing to have to live in a shelter, and even more depressing when you are treated like a child because you need help.

I think we need more shelters that treat individuals as adults and try to foster or re-foster independence in the individuals they serve.

Telling someone they can't work because they'll just "spend their money on drugs or booze" merely makes individuals dependent on the shelter system. It also keeps them in the system longer because they are forced to rely on the generosity of others in order to get out of the shelter and into housing and gainful employment.

We do individuals a disservice when we turn them into pariahs for having human weaknesses. I don't think the vast majority of individuals who come into shelters are addicts by nature, so much as by circumstance. A little common sense and honesty can go a long way toward helping those individuals. Then more resources can be devoted to helping those for whom their addiction is the main stumbling block to their success.

Mr. John Doe Homeless said...

Thanx for helping to shake the stereotypes. We need all the positive public awareness possible to bring the "not yet homeless" to sensibility!
I have been representing a segment of population that has been accelerating in its growth, the increasing numbers of folks that work (or struggle trying), but have had to resort to avoid the excessive cost of housing in order to live within their means while homeless. Not all of us are drug addict, alcoholic, or otherwise mentally handicapped. Some of us are used to working for a living (like many who still live in a building, calling it a home) and despite the difficulties involved in living on the streets & in bushes, or even in vehicles &/or RVs, persist in bettering ourselves from whatever level we’re at.
Being put out of business from new law changes, I opposed the economical trend that has inevitably resulted in our current conditions. At 60+, employment isn't plentiful, & I live (within my means) in a RV. If you can relate to the conditions that I have dealt with since 1990, then you know how the very causes of our problems handicap our ability to make progress in effecting any improvment.
To leave this short... my blog covers more detail... want to spread a good vibe for a group in S.F. - check out "BoycottHousing.COM" they deserve support and may be a helpful promotion!
My links will let you know me at:
Stay safe!