Homeless: It’s (not) the Drugs

It’s almost impossible to discuss homelessness without a chorus of loud and insistent voices shouting, “It’s the drugs!” While drug use is indeed common among homeless people, reliable data confirm it’s rarely the cause of homelessness.

If drug use were the cause of homelessness, you would expect to see a correlation among states with high numbers of drug usage and high numbers of homelessness. There is no such correlation.

Hawaii ranks second in the United States in homeless numbers per capita; it’s also near the bottom of charts registering drug use per capita. The driving force of homelessness in Hawaii isn’t drug use, it’s the high cost of living — most especially the rent factor.

The three leading states in homeless numbers per capita are New York, Hawaii, and California, in that order. None of the three is even in the top twenty in drug use per capita.

According to the most recent annual survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country report that top causes of homelessness among families were: (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order. The same report found that the top causes of homelessness among unaccompanied individuals were (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, (4) mental illness and the lack of needed services, and (5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services.”

Note that substance abuse, coupled with “the lack of needed services” ranks number five on the overall list of top causes for homelessness among, “unaccompanied individuals.”

Jim Pack and Sherry Lopez Modesto
Homeless on the mean streets of Modesto, California

A great many homeless people are disabled or elderly and on fixed incomes at or around $1,000 a month. In states like California, New York, and Hawaii, those incomes, with very few exceptions, are too low to afford housing of any kind, not even a room in a boarding house. States with high homeless numbers invariably have high housing costs, usually accompanied by widespread low wages.

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, Stanislaus County offers a good example of a region where housing costs are prohibitive for local workers. According to a recent study,

“To qualify as good, a job must pay at least a target annual wage to allow individuals to meet expense and savings needs without “safety net” benefits, provide health insurance or a proxy for similar benefits and afford stable options for future career development. In Stanislaus County, only 13% of jobs currently fulfill all these criteria. Promising jobs, which make up 22% of county employment, do not meet all the good job criteria but provide opportunities for career advancement to help workers land a good job within the next 10 years. The remaining 65% of jobs fall short of these criteria..”

Given the facts about wages, housing costs and shortages, reducing homelessness would be more successful if we devoted as much passion and energy to transitional housing options, living wages and affordable home construction as we do to demonizing drug users. The inconvenient truth is that if every homeless person in America stopped using drugs tomorrow, there would be little to no reduction in homelessness.

Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. Wasteful military spending in Ukraine would defray our homeless & jobless issues at home. Let the Corporations & Oligarchs pay their own foreign interests. Not our taxes!

      • You mean undocumented immigrants who do not and cannot apply for benefits. How long will ignorant people believe this trope that is disproven time and time again.

        • I’m sorry that it cost so much but if you can change ur self to go to Indiana some of our apartments here run like 450.00 per month and it is good for older people we have apartments here for seniors go for 350.00 per month and they are nice. Just was thinking it’s good to know that’s all . Have a good day.

        • Marie Drake oh yes they can and lots of them do! I had a man from Ukraine come in with a little boy, who appeared to be around 8 yrs old, and they ordered a 20 take and bake pizza and used ebt to pay and when I asked how long they’ve been in the US? they told me 2 months. Since then, there have been several more, all paying with EBT, so save your breath because I know different!!

        • BS lady. I watch them go into my local social service daily with all there kids and none of them speak a drop of English. Who’s lying to you. It happens daily

      • Even legal immigrants aren’t eligible for services. They have to get work but aren’t eligible to work for several months to years. Now that’s what needs to stop. None of your tax dollars are going to pay for illegals . Illegals are detained in facilities like other criminals.

        • I never thought in a million years that my family and I could ever reach the point of us becoming homeless. But it’s about to happen at the hands of Mendocino County and Creekside and Cabins RV Resort. Yes my family and I are evacuees from that place, and placed here at the Mendocino Redwoods RV Resort. The county basically told us “ They will only pay for you to stay there for two months after that well that is not our concern after the two months.” What the hell kind of Sh….. is that? And the owner of Creekside didn’t give a F….. from the start, so we knew she was a lost cause. But the Mendocino County displaced us and now we only have a few more days here and we do not know where we will go or how we’ll be able to pay for another spot. All these programs are so hard or you don’t know if you qualify. I don’t know and I’m scared because of just that becoming homeless with my grandson. If anyone has information that maybe useful in my situation please feel free to let me know. And last thing NONE OF US USE DRUGS and WE ARE ABOUT TO BECOME HOMELESS. We just can’t find a place that fits our income level.

          • We’re right there with you in Washington state. I’m in SS and barely making it. One more increase and I’ll be out of here.
            I rec. a settlement and used most of it to buy an older travel trailer, so at least I’ll have a that as a backup. I’ve tried to get housing assistance with absolutely no luck.

            • How is an article that’s focused on the LACK of commonalities between homelessness and drug use get turned into a sob story for why Illegals are being suppressed and forced into homelessness due to lack of government funding Illegals the accommodations they feel entitled to just because they are here illegally. Omg you people are daft. The point of the story was to stress that drugs are not the reason Americans are going homeless in mass numbers. Homeless would stop drugs if they were given programs to reintegrate them into society. A society that has shamed and dehumanized them and passed false judgement upon them. Of safe places to shower were more accessible and free laundry services were an option where they could clean their clothes so they felt pride when they dressed each day and felt confidant in going to an I terrier or if every application for anything didn’t demand an address they don’t have to give and obtaining an ID or driver’s license wasn’t impossible because they can’t get the documents each state wants just so they can profile u and track every movement u make in life. If homeless were able to go apply for a job and not be labeled drug users or thief or dirty or any other negative stigmas that are place on the association of being homeless may be just maybe the homeless would feel like they were not being shuned and targeted for slaughter by the rest of the so called better living pompous homedwellers who discriminate and snub their nose at them every chance the can

          • I’m sorry that you and you family are having to go through this. My heart sincerely goes out to you. If I could at all help you I definitely would in a heartbeat. If I could help all of you out on here I would. I know things can tend to get really really hard on you all that are going through this, and the only thing I can say is no matter how hard or bad or how you think or feel that absolutely no one could care, there are so many of us that do care.
            This isn’t going to last very long and you’ll soon see, things will be good for you again. Just hold on a little bit longer please. I don’t like anyone going through this. I once used to be homeless but I did that to myself because of my drug use, I lost my whole world when I ended up getting my kids taken from me and I felt that maybe I deserved to be on the street because of my loss. But, times changed for me for the better and a special person picked me up off of the streets and thankfully my special someone has been in my life since then going on nearly 3 years now. Being homeless was the worst. And I’d never wish it in anyone. I know my story is not as heartbreaking as all of yours but it’s my story and I can tell you this isn’t going to last very long. I’ll pray for you all the best I can. It’s all I can do for any of you. If I could I’d send you letters just to know that you’re in my heart. I only wish the best that everyone truly deserves. I love you from the very bottom of my heart. You might not get to read this or even know that I was and still an thinking of you. I do love you no matter what and I’m praying for for these for you and your family. I am sorry.

            • Thank you, you spoke that absolute truth and it’s good to know that it’s being realized the problem isn’t the ppl but the system in which society is failing many ppl. It’s illegal to target and label indivuals yet its being aloud. Innocent ppl are being put on list losing everything. If there’s no hope then there’s no reason to try anymore. Most use drugs to numb themselves from the heartbreak they’ve had, it’s sad when some would rather dying from being high then to believe in themselves again. The worst is when you’ve jump thru every hoop have done everything you were told to do and just when you think you’ve overcome the hell you’ve been in you’re denied do to what others think or what others are able to control. Smh I’m homeless put up in a run down trap hotel that my tribe’s funding with many who abuse the funding by using n not following program rules. B I t some like me are trying and follow rules are sadly accused of Dr I gs, labeled and shamedand because of my being here. I can’t find work, I can’t afford to clean my clothes, I hustle to provide food even with Stamps, and I stay to myself because I’ve my son and grandchild. Ppl say they care but here I’m this small town in Wisconsin it’s said quote ” why not do dope when I’ve been robbed of my hope” or ” vote for who most campaign advertising should say “no hope just do dope” election blah blah blah for state senate. It’s sad really and it’s a shame that it’s happened but no one cares they’d rather waste tax payers money putting ppl in jail and not providing help. Least in jail it’s warmer then laying in the streets, least your fed and can shower. Smh it’s inabling because it’s free. Or it’s another ticket you can’t afford on a list which causes you ineligible for assistance. So A men to what you said cause you weren’t scared to let the truth me known. Thank you again

        • “Me” (who evidently is not willing to share their real name) stated: ” Illegals are detained in facilities like other criminals.”. Wow, oh Wow. What fake news world do you live in. So according to you the up to 5 million illegals who have crossed the border since Biden was “elected” are all in jail.
          Why do you bother to post such stupid stuff? No wonder you are too CHICKEN to post your real name

      • It’s not the illegals fault!! We should be grateful for some of the illegals!! Because they come here to do the work that we as Americans don’t want to do.

        • Stop this BS ! Not all illegals here to work and have a better Life some coming illegal for freebies and doing criminal activities. Most races want to Live the American dream the right way legally. work

        • The migrants that just show up here seem to be flourishing with all the private donations and government subsidies they could ask for. Your better off as an illegal than being a citizen in this once great nation… At least I’ll have real stories to tell my grandchildren of when we had a wonderful country that was the envy of the world at one time..now we are circling the drain so sad 😢

      • What she means is, people who enter the country illegally, not through the proper channels. Then they apply for snap benefits and receive them.

      • Or food stamps with all their kids they brought here illegally and Medicaid. We give them in Colorado maybe even more now but we have 360 a month per kid. That’s why they have so many kids from 18 to infant. They get to collect that as long as they have a kid under 5. Hence all the babies.

    • They need to take care USA First.Then Help other countries.Usa.is also in Need of Helping Hand.Take care People’s in the USA First.

    • We are the richest country in the world. Increased spending on education mental and physical healthcare, social safety net programs, are what we need. The illegal immigrants and aid to Ukraine are not stopping our abilities to do this, that’s just fuel for the political polarization that’s endemic in this country. The money is there people, it’s just how we choose to spend it.

  2. I know that feeling here in roanoke va, it’s the same way you must make 3x the rent in order to even qualify for a apartment. If you are lucky to get a apartment for 600.00 a month you need to make 1,800.00 a month! If you are on ssi you only get around 857.00 a month!! So your screwed. This need to stop and help the homeless with the tiny house and charged like 300.00 a month come on.

      • Watch when saying things in ignorance as karma has a funny way of sneaking up on people when they least expect it….

      • WHY don’t you. See what real people are experiencing & see how it feels to be put in these kinds of situations after you’ve worked hard for everything you have. If you haven’t experienced it first hand, then with all due respect, please shut the F…. UP. Your skewed sarcasm or attempt at humor in order to belittle & devalue other’s who are struggling allows everyone to see what a douchebag you truly are.
        Thank you.

    • In Santa Barbara, CA you can’t get a 1 bedroom for less than $2600.00! There are 1 bedrooms for 3-4,000. It is insane.

      • What’s so bad like living in CA is it’s a state like any other. Nothing special about it, just the name.

      • Yes it is insane which is why if you cannot afford the rents you need to move to somewhere you can afford the rents. Everyone needs to plan for the future, to understand that hard times will come at some point and prepare for that, to improve their skill set, etc

    • Hi 90 percent of people on ssi have nothing wrong just lazy in my neighborhood I know of 5 people on ssi and nothing wrong I worked 2 or3 jobs to put roof over my family’s head let’s not forget 400 food stamps medical better then yours or mine free bus rides all day free heating for apartments plus more bottom line they want everything free

      • I agree..there is jobs but the American people have gotten lazy! So they say “I’ve got this medical issue that mental issue blah blah blah” then collect SSI…they reproduce and their kids become the next generation of system livers.
        They’ve never seen what it looks like to have hard working parents!
        We need to stop handing out freebies and start teaching parenting skills, life skills, and how to put on you big boy/girl pants and work!
        Me and my husband have 3 kids.
        He makes almost 6 digits and I have my Masters.
        We make ends meet but nothing much extra.
        We don’t drive new vehicles and live in a 3 bedroom twin home.
        Life is hard but at least I know we’ve earned everything through hard work and determination!
        Wake Up America and stop playing the poor me I want card!
        Get an education and get a job!

      • Wrong I’m on ssda due to seizures non controlled from tumors I had was in a successful career my world changed to health reasons no I don’t get any food stamps I make to much I’m never lazy with seizures brain cancer I’d work run circles round u at my age don’t judge wtf u don’t no I get nothing free period I paid my as an taxes for 42 yrs.I pray u wise up stop judging ppl u no nothing about mfer bet u mad cuz u lazy no health issues they denied ur benefits

  3. A good number of the homeless population on the island of Hawaii consists of people SENT to Hawaii from other states.

    • How on earth could that be? Is there a free railroad or bus line that goes under the ocean? Who would pay to fly an indigent person to Hawaii? Is Tucker Carlson making this claim?

  4. So what’s gonna be done about the issue? As long as the people in congress make so much money and have a place to live you think they give a damn about someone who’s homeless?

  5. It’s all the immagrants flooding our America as well as Biden continually sending billions of dollars. Money that we all need here. Biden should of kept his nose on his own face and stayed out of their war because we just got out of a 20 year war with Iraq.

    • I agree with this 100 % he has made our country go to shit in a hand basket Trump was doing much better by helping us Americans and trying to keep the immigrants out so our people had better chances of getting a job .so agree with you

    • Immigrants ie Mexicans and Puerto Ricans work harder than Americans. I do not see them standing in any lines for hand outs. Brown and black are the first ones that put their hands out to help homeless people with food or a dollar to white black or brown. White people pretend the person or problem don’t exist . Let’s get it straight

      • O.m.g. I am so glad that you straitened that out for a few of the ignorant people who commented before you did!

      • That’s not right, I’ll work beside any man and see who is the better hand. Nationality nor race determines a person work ethics. That’s part of the parenting process.

      • You’re just as clueless as these corrupt Politicians spreading your nonsense which only you believe

      • It doesn’t matter what color your skin is to ask for help. That is a racist comment in my opinion. I see people of all colors needing help and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Do you donate to any cause? Probably not. Have you ever been homeless or hungry? Probably not. So don’t judge people so quickly because you don’t know the struggle. You have probably had a silver spoon in your mouth all your life.

    • Where are these mythical people who cross the border with the evil intent to specifically make life miserable for white people?

      Stop, your assumption has no basis in reality. Undocumented immigrants are trafficked here for employers who want slaves. Yes it keeps our wages down but what are people doing to organize against employers? Yeah, absolutely nothing. Keep bleating about brown people while you are being raped by thr wealthy.

  6. I am favorably impressed with the increase of comments in response to Eric Caine’s posts, on the issue of Humanitarian Crisis: HOMELESSNESS.



  7. Yup. America has screwed itself wuth corrupt career politicisns and lawyers. The governm ent doesnt care as long a it gets theirs. Gonna learn to speak cjinese for when Biden turns over the keys

  8. Yes the taxes are ridiculous. Here in Ca, were having issues with police officers using and overpowering their power and when they get sued guess what, out taxes have to pay that too while paying for that officer to be put on payed leave. Either readjust or taxes or knock down prices

  9. I’m in Arizona and the amount of homeless is amazing I guess a lot because they can be with the weather here I am sure that there is some out there that don’t want to be but when a 24 yr old kid sends his girlfriend to ask me for money no go get job around here you get asked for money all the time you learn

    • Steve, I agree! I’m not sure if you’re in the Phoenix area, but I live east of 19th Ave and Northern and it’s ridiculous from 19th Ave all the way to the I17.




        TAKE CARE…

  10. I’ve been on the streets, money went to food and clothes. I used no drugs. Thank you all the people that have been there for me thanks for the free meals, Camila’s house, Misson and the Korean Church good soups. Vegan and much thanks.

  11. I lost count how many times I’ve said this but we have all heard it and many of us wonder how, if at all, could I, average Jane/John citizen make a difference…
    Alone you can not. But bear in mind that for every member of Congress there’s a million of us thereabouts.
    As of early January 2023 there were 334,233,854 people living in the U.S. legally. If for the tax season this year if even 1/4 of that number refused to acknowledge the IRS, a private company, the impact would be more than palpable. That’s a radical idea with the goal to get every single tax payer to withhold simultaneously for full impact and a show of force and solidarity. The fat slobs in Washington, along with your local pig sty government’s do not see you as anything more than a number exchanged into worthlessness on foreign stock exchanges.
    If you want to do something but feel your efforts are lost on a machine like the Feds, I highly recommend withholding taxes and make it a locally coordinated statement until it becomes national.

    • I agree with you, it is as it’s always been, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And until this changes nothing will happen because unfortunately there are more of the rich and they just don’t care about the poor. I consider myself truly blessed. I myself have been homeless and hungry, but fortunate enough to get to know the homeless community and the people that fight so hard to help us. I was badly hurt working trying to be a contributing member of society. When you are badly hurt you are paid 60% of your wages if you are lucky enough to get workers compensation. After workers compensation you probably end up on SSI like I because I was unfortunate enough to get hurt at age 30 and was told I was not eligible for SSDI because I didn’t have the credits of a 40-year-old worker. I had more credits than I should but I was two credits short. There is a big difference in the amount of money you receive from SSDI and SSI. I did not become homeless because of drugs I became homeless because my income was no longer enough to support any type of housing luckily after 6 years I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to get an apartment in low-income public housing and every single day I am thankful and grateful to not be outside in the cold or outside carrying my belongings everywhere I go with no way to call home. You truly do not know what that is like unless you experience it yourself. Fortunately I am now able to pay all my bills it’s the first thing I do and have a roof over my head but let’s face it 6 years is a long time to wait some wait longer there just is not enough affordable housing for people that are truly disabled I have had several serious back surgeries and consider myself very lucky to still be able to walk is the neurosurgeon told me at age 30 if I didn’t have my first surgery within 6 weeks I would no longer be able to walk. So for people like me who were trying to be contributing members of society, got to hire education work my way up to a pretty good job and ended up hurt badly. There seems to be no help for people like us just disdain and disgust and treating people like they’re invisible or like they should be thrown out like trash when they find themselves with no place to call home. If you have ever treated someone that way I sure hope you never end up in that situation but sometimes that can happen because karma can creep up and kick you in your you know what. So try to have some compassion and love and kindness for people who are struggling. Try not to look at them as if they’re disgusting, stop yelling at them to get a job just get a effing job because some truly cannot work. I am actually lucky that I became homeless and no both sides of this situation. One person can help oh it takes is a little compassion and kindness. A smile saying hello how are you? Maybe giving the person a sandwich and all jacket and old blanket. Those of us fortunate enough to be at homes certainly have enough that we can help those less fortunate that ourselves if more people would do this I know the world would certainly be a much better place. This is just facts and reality.

  12. You all know what it takes to stay afloat ? Endure an unsafe environment, you must hump in water and hump out waist. You haven’t formal means of electricity, and no way to store food for any length of time. So your req to eat garbage and fast food. And how can you begin to get your legs underneath you,especially when it’s sport to kick em out from under ya.

  13. I’m in Arizona what’s so bad is there are homeless that are on drugs, but not like u would think, makes it look bad for the ones that arent. And there isn’t help for any of them. They make them move or go to jail. And they think since they made them move, the problem is gone. It’s not. They need to take these old motels, and closed down malls and give to homeless for houseing, how can they get a job no one hires homeless, so yes people get on the blue pills and they are dying. I guess that’s better than being homeless.

  14. I beg to disagree with the author and his conclusion and ask this question; have you ever actually done direct client services with the homeless? I worked for 3 years in our local shelters as well as drug treatment for 12 years and am a retired probation officer. I can say without hesitation the no.1 reason for people to be homeless is drug and alcohol abuse. I’m

    • This is, bottom line the accurate truth. Employers WILL hire the homless. Not the ones on drugs. If someone shows up for work and does a good job their personal situation DOESN’T MATTER. In fact many employers are happy to give someone in a bad position a chance.

      • You’ve clearly never been homeless. No one will hire someone who doesn’t have an address or a way to clean themselves up. I’m sure you don’t wanna work next to someone with bad odor. I face this every time I go into an interview

    • Your clients self medicate but did that cause their homelessness? Why are there so many drinking drug users who have housing in comparison/ I think it real estate speculation and high cost of housing that cause so many to be homeless.

    • Bryan, thanks for sharing your experience working with the “homeless”. The author has an agenda and is blinded by that so much so that he does not understand that what he promotes does not help the “homeless” but does profit the developers, consultants and so-called non-profits

  15. Im about 1 payday away from being homeless, trying to save enough to get to warmer climate. As i know i’ll be homeless sooner or later and i’m 62 y.o., but have no choice, i’m disabled and can’t afford rental costs and increased utilities, and won’t have meds if i want to eat, don’t worry people, we don’t bite. But where do you want us to go. I’ll try to stay out of your way, just let me have a couple square feet in a ditch,or under a bridge with my medical health problems i can’t survive to long out in the elements and like thousands of other elderly homeless we will all be gone soon.who would’ve thought we work,pay taxes, pay into Soc.Sec. and get priced out of a lousy apt. and have to face our final days on earth living on the streets.American Humanity at its best. And alcohol and drugs are not the issue. It’s can’t afford rent so have to choose, im diabetic so i have to eat. Or pay rent and not eat and meet my maker. Easy choice !



  17. Yeah then you get into low income housing all you have is these rediculous rules and regulations !!
    No wonder why people don’t want to live in these low income slumlord residences , I live in one now but I’m getting the hell out soon !! Shit holes !!

    • Maybe so but, it doesn’t mean everyone is on drug’s. Statistics aren’t an excuse for stereotyping.

  18. Pretty simple, really; Build affordable housing!

    Build “micro-condominiums”, ~150 to 400 sq.ft. with quality materials and appointments to instill pride in ownership and help maintenance concerns later.

    Build them so that a studio and a 1 BR unit abut each other so they might be joined if desired.

    Make the money follow the student so that parents can educate each child to the best of their ability; “School Choice”! Only then will we have students finishing 12 years that are somewhat prepared to compete productively.

  19. Even when you are on ssi. Section 8 low income, once you start getting more money in your check then you can only make so much or they kick you off. They make it very hard to stay on. The building adds on apartment insurance. If you don’t get apartment insurance they put it that they don’t have to renew your lease. Laundry costs, laundry soap, anything you need to keep up your hygiene, clothes clean, toiletries, anything you use make your coffee , coffee filters, anything at all costs. Where would you store it. Whether a storage unit $. An apartment $. They keep jacking up prices. Your ssi, ssdi, any disability money coming in seems to never be enough.
    Wait till it happens to them when they get older. Their own parents. Every body gets old.

  20. That’s what I never understood was why do people think drugs are anything to do with becoming homeless and why when you go to get help they automatically direct you to a rehab or drug recovery center ….

    Drugs come after homelessness usually because u cant fix things in your life so why not is the mentality but if we had people helping people in our country then we wouldn’t be having these issues ( No offence UN just sayin) when you try and get a sponser or help with donations you can seem to find plenty places to give donations but I myself had a very hard time getting any help still havent actually…


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