No one should have been surprised when the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found that local attempts to manage homelessness lacked focus, accountability, and positive results, despite the expenditure of millions of dollars. Like efforts to reduce homelessness most everywhere, Stanislaus County’s bewildering array of nonprofits, government agencies, and volunteer efforts fails for many reasons, but among the most common is the mistaken notion that rehabilitation should be the first option for people experiencing homelessness.
By far the most popular success narrative about homelessness, the rehab and recovery narrative almost always involves a former drug user finding God, quitting drugs, and joining the workforce as a productive member of mainstream society. Unfortunately, the recovery narrative is only one of many misleading anecdotes about homelessness.
In fact, the number of homeless people who truly benefit from quitting drugs during rehab is astonishingly small for a simple reason: Once they quit, they are almost invariably back on the streets.
The fundamental truth about homelessness is not that homeless people are homeless because they use drugs; if that were true, there would be far more homeless people everywhere than there are now. Celebrity addicts like Rush Limbaugh, Robert Downey Jr., and Drew Barrymore not only never became homeless, they continued to earn fortunes while addicted.
Most homeless people don’t acquire housing and jobs when they quit using drugs for a simple reason: There isn’t enough affordable housing and there aren’t enough jobs that pay living wages, especially for people who’ve been homeless for more than a few weeks or months.
Those simple realities — lack of housing and jobs that pay living wages — are far more significant factors in homelessness than drug use. Nonetheless, the rehab and recovery narrative is so dominant that it gets in the way of more effective tactics for managing homelessness.
Again, Stanislaus County offers an illustrative example of what likely happens in many other places. The county’s drug treatment center — Stanislaus Recovery Center (SRC) — is not only understaffed, there have been repeated drug overdoses on site.
And even when patients successfully complete the SRC program, their long-term recovery from drug dependency hinges on what happens after they exit the treatment center. If they exit into homelessness, they almost always resume using drugs, sometimes within a day or two. The same scenario is true for homeless people who are treated for mental illness. In most cases, treatment is thwarted when patients return to the streets.
Thus, money spent on treating homeless people for drug use or mental illness is money better spent providing them safe and secure lodging, even when the lodging is in the form of a tent or tarp on safe ground. Recovery from drug abuse doesn’t happen in a few days or even a few months. Effective treatment is expensive, ongoing, and dependent on a stable and secure environment once treatment ends. Except in the rarest of cases, these necessities for recovery aren’t available for people experiencing homelessness.
In fact, if every homeless person in California were to quit using drugs tomorrow, the vast majority would still be homeless, not only tomorrow, but the next day, the next week, and many months thereafter.
Yes, there are cases when a homeless person enters treatment, stops using drugs, finds work and housing, and lives happily thereafter. Such cases, however, are rare. Presenting them as commonplace examples results in a tremendous waste of resources and contributes significantly to our ongoing failure to reduce the manifold harms of homelessness. Resources spent on rehab too often lead homeless people right back to the streets.
Bert Bergman says
Where does the money go? Is the money hoarded away, political persons gain large bank accounts? Do private businesses gain sales and the list could go on. Obviously, money is not the answer. Changing peoples minds and attitudes are the only way but how us that done.
Cathy Heap says
You are definitely definitely 1000% correct about the country of Stanislaus keeps the money for themselves and the hell with the HOUSELESS people,that is what is wrong with the country of Stanislaus and every town and city in Stanislaus and more so in Turlock and Modesto both
laura johnson says
How can ‘Guest’ have read this article and made the comment, “People aren’t victims” from this story ? Wtf are you commenting on, ‘Guest’? A livable wage job must’ve just fell into your lap, Either that or you found a partner with whom you can depend on and make ends meet together, you lucky guy. I don’t think the word victim was even used in this article.
I believe this to be true. My name is Traci I’m homeless and just started a business cleaning blue and black and green bins, I’m hoping to create work for the ones who want off the street, or earn enough money to get some property to put Lil houses and make it affordable living. But being in stanislause that really hard to do . No help.
Addiction is not the #1 cause of homelessness, mental illness is, addiction is often a coping mechanism of dealing with the non stop nightmare of survival while being homeless. I am mentally ill, have repeatedly been homeless and in recovery for 30 years, with slip ups. Mentally ill people need continuous assistance after being helped into housing to manage staying in their housing. Mental illness fluctuates drastically so quickly and a manic stage can lead to irresponsible spending sprees and bouts of depression literally paralyze you making it impossible to clean and maintain your home. A few hours of assistance a week could help both the mentally and physically disabled as well as addicts manage to maintain their homes and independence permanently, but they can not do it alone. I have volunteered volunteer, have you?
I must admit, I am enjoying all the voices speaking out and up that tells me we are a concerned Valley CitizenRY. Knowing we can do much better as a community, within the counties and cities we all hail from, in this valley.
I want to add the fact that when people are addicted to drugs, including alcohol as a known drug, the neurotransmitters change inside the brain. For example, an alcoholic’s brain cells literally change to a point that it can take, on average, up to I8 months to obtain a semblance of normal.
These short stints at a bonafide drug rehab center, are seldom, if at all, a long enough time to truly recover the entire body in sync. Add to that the months of practicing a better way of thinking about life and making application of that way for an entire lifetime.
The first thing a drug counselor would want to arrange for the addict is a busy schedule, away from old friends and acquaintances. And, especially, to suggest that the addict not enter into any new love relationships, so the addict can concentrate on getting to know their own self, prior to taking on getting to know, in depth, a new person.
What is the likelihood of filling that for oneself, while struggling without a quiet stable home? This may be why small enclaves of houseless people often gather together to build comraderie and look out for one another. Group dynamics are generally more manageable in clusters of 15 or under, on average.
Homeless Shelters, seemingly, do not even remotely take this into account, as those who operate them continue to struggle for success, without solutions. Perhaps they may consider hiring an Organizational Psychologist to Assess the damages being done by and to the human resources.
Glendle McPherson says
I am not a drug user. I don’t drink. I am homeless because my widows benefit is 1600 a month and I cant find a rental in my price range. I am 63 and physically disabled, so my income potential has been reached. (At least for now and the foreseeable future.)
It seems to me that a lot of us could afford a “sub-standard” shack , but since local and county ordinances have made all “shacks” illegal we don’t even have that option.
Tax Payer says
Some body in Stanislaus County should be accountable for our tax wasted money and who is benefiting from this mismanagement?
We’re trapped in a historical ‘drown it in the bathtub’ funding cycle driven by the madness of ideologues.
Only when we can take real local control of our tax dollars can we develop high performing treatment systems, especially medical. Addiction is a medical issue!
In order to deal with the housing deficit we need to completely revise the rules and regs involved to get even one unit of housing, let alone thousands.
All else is simply keeping the wheels of power greased and turning us all into ______________ (you fill-in the blank)!
I think what EVERYONE seems to forget is services(i.e- mental health, shelters, government assistance, rehab, etc) are all VOLUNTARY. We cannot force the homeless to take services and as someone who sees it everyday and hears it constantly ” no im good, i dont like the shelters, I’d rather be on the street” homelessness is a CHOICE! There are numerous resources out there, but another big problem is the homeless population expect people to do things for them, they dont want to do it thenselves. Such as gathering documents, or simply going to an office and signing up for something, THEY DONT WANT TO DO IT THEMSELVES!
You sound jaded, Dear Renee. Have you reached the point of burn out?
I thought about the choice aspect when researching about Homeless Court. It all seems to hinge on the matter of choice, and not the judges choice. Seemed rather frivolous. As usual.
You are required to carry out tasks, with no teeth, as I have heard described. Round and round you go.
As much as I prefer it not be so, I cannot help but wonder “who has teeth”? And, how could the teeth be implemented?
Is it “just” to stand by and let people do self harm, while we merely shrug our shoulders and nod our heads, for lack of anything else we can do?
I want off this merry-go- round. I believe homeless, mentally ill, addicts, poor, want off, too. Sounds like you want off, Renee.
It is very difficult to accomplish anything with hands tied behind backs. Someone must apply the brakes, regard our heartstrings, and do the sensible thing, in the absence of logical choice by the adversely affected.
Some call it Tough Love.
Someone has to lay down the bottom line. It will need to be law.
Not just any old law. A well thought out law. A law decided by many citizens, brought about by 100% CONSENSUS, other wise, it may be too harsh.
What I do know is: the same old same old cannot go on. We cannot keep doing the same thing, over and over, expecting the correct change. Did someone say that is the definition of insanity? We are being whittled down to nubs.
If many individuals who are homeless are unable to choose what is best for themselves, someone, graciously and mercifully, must choose for them.
Sweeps are any thing but gracious. Having to ride out rain storms is any thing but merciful. Letting all this go on, ad nauseum, is neither.
All things in moderation. No heavy handedness. Yet firm.
Holly R says
I am trying to figure out exactly why the ability to have shelter in which one can store and prepare food, shower and maintain a clean wardrobe, and even entertaining a friend or perhaps watching a show, is only supposed to be accessible to those who are able to afford it in the state of California. We have the highest rate of this problem because it costs too much to live here.
We have many programs that offer no more than an answering machine and we have zealous Christian churches who offer nothing but judgement and rules they are willing to implement for others but never themselves.
I believe it starts with the fact that most agencies pay larger salaries then they spend on benefits and programs. They hire so called advocacy counselors who go to homeless encampments with shampoo and blankets but offer nothing else.
I started the Modesto Community Action Association is 2014 with several homeless people, many of whom are no longer with us. The goal was to provide the oversight and the guidance for organizations that provide services to the unhoused because they have no clue what they’re doing.
It has taken me forever to find volunteers and mentoring for this and right now we have two open seats on our Board due to death and two from the term ending.
Put yourself in the shoes of who you are judging. Check out the details of the MCAA on our Facebook group and the Reddit we have as well as the new webpage at giftedlosers dot WordPress.com
We need help with some really great projects so if you’re interested let us know.
Mrs. Cain says
And now Stanislaus County wants to have a homeless Court. No one wants to go to court. This is crazy. What is the community doing to help our people in need? Government Systems have fallen. Now the people stand up. Together.
LOU VALERO says
I love you, Mrs. Cain,
We must gather together in unison. Government systems have “fallen” short.
I did not get any response back from, the Stanislaus
county, Supervisor, in charge of the Homeless shindig. I replied to a comment he made a few weeks back, in the Valley Citizen. He shunned his responsibity for his charge. He only surfaced to give a pat on the back of someone, other than he, who vouched for the 9th Street Shelter. The single claim to legitimacy was contrasted against multiple naysayers. Sadly, the nays have it.
We demand better, Terry.
Stanislaus county HAD homeless court and it was a great program! Helped many homeless with minor misdemeanor tickets related to homelessness.