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Homelessness and Addictions

Bums by Peter Bagge is a great comic e-book (it’s short, just four pages) with some of the most all-around rational views on homelessness I’ve ever read. Includes a description of the Housing First approach, which is to get people sleeping indoors and *then* work on treatment.

In Vancouver, BC the InSite safe injection site illustrates a major roadblock in dealing with homelessness: moral judgments and ideology obstructing science and clinical mental health care. A letter published in Open Medicine signed by 134 doctors, scientists, politicians, police members and community workers protests the federal government’s reluctance to approve funding and demands a reasonable explanation. The evidence base is clear: InSite prevents deaths, the spread of disease, reduces crime, and leads addicts to treatment. Meanwhile, the government stalls on approving its continued success [seemingly] due to political interference from pigheaded conservative types with war-on-drugs rhetoric seeping in from America. A quote from the letter:

Policy-makers may legitimately decide on ethical, moral, political, or economic grounds to severely restrict or even prohibit the use of an intervention, such as Vancouver’s supervised injection site, that careful scientific inquiry has shown to have significant health benefits. In these situations, however, policy-makers must provide cogent reasons for their decision and make the basis for their actions explicit and transparent. Such decisions must not be justified by resorting to deceptive claims that cast doubt on the effectiveness of the intervention, or that raise unsupported fears of harmful side effects.

At the same time, physicians, scientists, and public health professionals must be willing to speak out in the public arena when the accumulated body of research evidence clearly supports a health intervention that faces resistance because of entrenched beliefs. As stated in a declaration by Scientists and Engineers for America, a grassroots organization that counts 15 Nobel laureates among its board of advisors, “[t]he principal role of the science and technology community is to advance human understanding. But there are times when this is not enough. Scientists and engineers have a right, indeed an obligation, to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, [or] put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths.”

Vancouver isn’t even close to adopting a Housing First approach; BC is continuing the deinstitutionalization of severely mentally ill people with few community supports and no housing in place. Homelessness often leads to addiction, not to mention frequent acute care hospitalization, with mental disorders accounting for 52% of admissions for homeless people. (For people with homes the most common reason for hospitalization, at 13%, was childbirth and pregnancy.)

Don’t believe Michael Moore, there’s no health care utopia in Canada.

Homelessness and Addictions

Sandra Kiume

Sandra Kiume is a mental health advocate. Along with contributing to World of Psychology, she blogs at Channel N about brain and behaviour videos, and is the founder of @unsuicide and Online Suicide Help. She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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APA Reference
Kiume, S. (2018). Homelessness and Addictions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Sep 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.