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Substance Abuse and Homelessness

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

3. Foreclosure

4. Addiction

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.


Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Additional calls will also be forwarded and returned by a quality treatment center within the USA.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by a licensed drug and alcohol rehab facility, a paid advertiser on

All calls are private and confidential.

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