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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Homeless Shelters Struggle With Substance Abuse

Homelessness is a problem in every state in America, a demographic that is, perhaps, the most overlooked by both federal and state agencies. Sadly, homelessness is often a symptom of other problems, such as mental health and substance abuse issues. While some shelters focus on treating those issues on top of putting roofs over the heads of the countless homeless in America, the reality is that most homeless shelters are ill equipped to handle the load. In fact, many shelters turn away the homeless that show signs of alcohol and substance abuse.

A shelter in Manchester, Conn. recently closed down as opposed to accepting people using drugs and alcohol, NPR reports. More than half of the shelter's budget was funded by the state, but a rule that links funding to the admission of people using drugs or alcohol put the shelter in a tight spot. The shelter argues that it does not have the manpower to both house the homeless and look after lose abusing drugs and alcohol.

The Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC) executive director, Beth Stafford, told The Hartford Courant:

"Other than in periods of extreme cold or heat, the longtime policy at the Manchester shelter has been to deny admission to people who are drinking and using drugs. MACC Charities and other 'dry' shelters use Breathalyzer tests to screen people."

"The organization lacks the staff and funding to supervise active alcohol- and drug-abusers overnight, Stafford said, and there are concerns about the safety of the two people — a staff member and a volunteer — who manage the place each night."

Clearly, the closing of the Connecticut shelter is a sign of a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed. In most cases current funding is too low to provide both shelter and substance use disorder treatment to the homeless. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness estimates that nearly half of all the homeless, and 70 percent of Veterans experiencing homelessness, suffer from substance use disorders, according to the article.

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