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Harm Reduction

Despite an ongoing COVID pandemic, the real estate market is booming across the USA. And whenever the housing market thrives, the nearby homeless community swells. It's members don't come equally from all walks of life. The mentally ill, the addicted, the non-conforming and the poor are the majority of the homeless community in any given city on any given night.

The rich and powerful, the political elite, the connected, the Trumps and Kennedys--they don't wind up here. They land on the safety nets maintained by their class privilege.

The organizations and services discussed in the podcast are linked below.

Less than half of chronically homeless people in the USA are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse issues. The rest of us (I say us because I, too, was homeless for awhile in the early 2000s) are homeless because we don't have enough money to pay for housing. It's not our fault; it is the system's fault. It is designed to turn a certain number of people out, and to make it look like we did it to ourselves. There is less cultural guilt that way.

If you meet a homeless person today, chances are they don't identify as an addicted person or as struggling with mental illness. But in the USA, we don't like to admit this as a culture because it puts the blame for the problem directly on those who don't experience it--those who manage to scratch out enough cash every month to keep a roof over our heads. We prefer to blame the victims, and so we stereotype the homeless community as lazy, selfish, addicted and mentally ill--all things that (bonus!!) allow us to keep our coin in our pockets and turn away from their suffering.

Thirty-percent of the homeless population in any given area might be struggling with severe addiction or mental health disorders. But when you see homeless people who are living on the streets, these numbers shift, and around 75% of us are dealing with one or both conditions. Those who are not suffering from mental illness or substance abuse tend to fill up the shelters and programs in these communities, while the stoned and neuroatypical are sent to the streets because the shelters wont take us. We are classified as unruly, resistant to treatment, rebellious, or out of control, and we wind up staying on the streets because the system isn't equipped to offer us what we need. The streets are.

That's why grass-roots efforts are so important when it comes to Narcan (Naloxone--the opioid-overdose reversal drug) and clean needles. You can buy them yourself without a prescription, especially if you have insurance that makes them affordable, and give them to the next homeless person you see (after talking to them and making sure they know what it is and how to use it). Not because you think they are a drug addicted person, but because they live in a community with a lot of drug users who are not receiving the medical nor psychological attention they need. You can't use Narcan on yourself, but you can use it on someone nearby when they long as you have some.

Naloxone isn't the only solution to the problem. It is also time for safe injection sites to legally open in the US. These facilities reduce death, disease, crime and overdose, and they allow drug users to avoid the illegal underworld (and all of the stigmas and dangers that come with it).

But there is a big problem. They also reduce police patrols, drug-enforcement units, and paramedic calls. They reduce police budgets, special crimes divisions, sex-crime investigators, and all of the training that goes with law enforcement. They reduce prison populations, which means all of those companies selling food, clothing, gas and guns to the prison-industrial complex stand to lose out big time if we trade revenge for compassion and decriminalize all drugs. We will reduce the jobs available to people who are playing by the rules. This is the biggest hurdle we will have to jump through to move the needle on regulation and decriminalization.

And meanwhile we drug users keep dying...

Grass Roots Suggestions

You can carry gallon-sized freezer bags around with you and fill them with items that homeless people need:

chap stick and lotion

tampons and maxi pads

new socks!!

clean plastic shopping bags

packets of headache or allergy medicine hand sanitizer and bleach wipes

soft granola bars (because many homeless people don't receive adequate dental care)

bottled water

matches or a lighter

And of course the (not-so) controversial stuff that homeless folks need:

cigarettes or tobacco

clean needles (if legal), Narcan and injection water (if they are drug users)

crack pipes and meth bubblers (if they are drug users)

Kratom (if its legal)


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