picture of a homeless person

There are nearly two million homeless people in the USA. Many of these people became homeless due to a bad economy, among many other factors. Of these two million people, 36% are families with children. Unfortunately, some people still view the homeless as a stereotype – the filthy, drunk old man begging for change on the sidewalk. Although some homeless people are drug users, every segment of the population has a significant number of people who use or abuse drugs.

Just as there are a number of different reasons for people to abuse drugs, the homeless have their own problems and issues which may include drug and alcohol abuse. A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that just over 1.5 million people (from October 2009 to September 2010) were homeless and 109,000 people were considered chronically homeless. Another surprising fact about the homeless is that more than 20% are under 18 and about 38% are women, both of these statistics were mentioned in the same report. These numbers paint a stark portrait of homeless people illustrating the fact that homelessness affects everyone, not just single men. Out of the same population, SAMHSA reported that 26% of all people in homeless shelters had a severe mental illness while 34% had chronic substance abuse issues. The report also mentioned that about 50% of homeless people who have mental health problems also abuse drugs chronically. This information was taken from a study compiled from the data of the previous five years.

According to this article, drug overdose has overtaken AIDS to become the leading cause of death among homeless adults in the greater Boston area. Dr. Travis Baggett spoke about how homeless people tend to have their experience magnified when it comes to health issues that are affecting the public. The study tracked 28,033 adults from 2003 until 2008 and found that 17% died as a result of drug overdose while 6% died due to complications related to HIV/AIDs. This was a reversal of previous trends of studies done 15 years earlier in which complications due to AIDS accounted for 18% and drug overdose only accounted for 6% of deaths. Homelessness and drug abuse are often thought to go hand in hand and homeless people face a myriad of problems which do include dependence and addiction to drugs. Being homeless is often compounded by inadequate health care, mental illness, and the lack of a place to call home. All of these factors may increase a homeless person’s dependence on drugs and alcohol, with little help from others.

According to this PBS article, the three main causes of homelessness in families are a lack of affordable housing, poverty, and unemployment. The three main causes of homelessness for single adults are substance abuse, lack of affordable housing, and mental illness. Due to the many factors surrounding homeless families and adults, there will never be just one solution to end drug addiction and chronic homelessness in the USA. However, the government can start by providing adequate and affordable housing, mental healthcare, and substance abuse treatment for those who are homeless.