The cost of housing and stagnant wages, not drugs, are the main causes of homelessness

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In her Voice of OC community opinion piece, 5/2/21, Lorri Galloway categorically states, “Drug abuse is the most definite cause of homelessness.” She doesn’t cite any studies to support this, and she doesn’t cite any experts on the causes of homelessness. She admits that “job loss is another cause”, but dismisses it as the main cause because “job loss is often the result of addiction”. Mental illness is mentioned, not as a cause of homelessness, but only to say that it is “often the result of long-term drug abuse”.

Apparently, in Galloway’s world, the skyrocketing cost of buying or renting housing in OC has nothing to do with the increase in the number of homeless people. In Galloway’s world, wage stagnation isn’t even mentioned in passing. Nowhere does it mention the role of domestic violence and the rejection of LGBTQ youth by their parents. This latter omission is particularly puzzling, given that she is the Executive Director of Eli Home, whose slogan is “Breaking the cycle of child abuse and domestic violence”.

In Galloway’s alternate reality, correlation implies causation. She states that currently 90% of mothers seeking refuge at Eli Home “are or have recently been drug or alcohol addicts”. She goes on to say that the incidence of homelessness and CO addiction have increased, as if this proves that the latter is causing the former. Nowhere does she recognize that addiction often follows the loss of a home.

Oddly enough, Galloway seems to contradict her own theory when she observes that homelessness is more prevalent in northern CO, while opioid addiction is more prevalent in southern CO.

All of the above notwithstanding, the most flawed and self-defeating aspect of Galloway’s worldview is the notion that more resources for addiction and mental health treatment are needed for shelters to be “really.” effective ”. Shelters are basically a dead end in OC, because we have a serious shortage of affordable housing for people looking for minimum wage jobs. We also have a serious shortage of permanent supportive housing, which includes the services (including behavioral and mental health treatments) that some people need to stay housed. Living in a shelter is bad for your health, even in the best of circumstances. During a pandemic, this can be a death sentence.

I don’t know what percentage of Eli Home clients end up in stable accommodation, or what the average length of time they are there, but no one should be subjected to living in a typical OC shelter for more than two weeks. . If accommodation is not available when someone enters a shelter, it is unlikely that it will be available when they leave. Residents of shelters are still homeless and likely will remain so.

The only truly effective approach to ending homelessness is to quickly produce housing that is accessible to all, in sufficient quantity to house everyone, including those who will lose their homes in the future. (God help us when the moratoriums on COVID-related evictions are lifted.)

I do not dispute the fact that addiction can play a role in the loss of a job or a home, or in the breakdown of a family. I support Galloway’s call for more addiction treatment programs, more drug rehab centers, and more focus on mental health issues. But rejecting the the main factors of homelessness, which are the cost of housing, stagnant wages and unemployment, and (for women) domestic violence (or in the case of men, incarceration) is blatantly irresponsible. Shelters will never solve homelessness, no matter how good their drug treatment programs are.

Thomas Fielder has been involved in homeless advocacy for over 3 years and is Director of Acquisitions for the OC People’s Homeless Task Force. He holds a master’s degree in biology and has worked in biomedical research his entire career, the last 26 years of which have been spent at UC-Irvine. He helped his wife raise 3 children in Anaheim, where they have lived for 37 years.

For another take on this problem, consider:

The opinions expressed in community opinion pieces are the property of the authors and not of Voice of OC.

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