Letter: Recognition of substance abuse and mental illness in regards to homelessness is vital
To the editor,
I’d like to address a reality that very few public office holders are willing to face.
I’ve been involved in the non-profit affordable housing business for nearly 30 years. I served as the board president of a large non-profit affordable housing enterprise, and also started three other non-profits that dealt directly and indirectly with what has been mischaracterized as “the homelessness problem.” One non-profit provided affordable vehicles for people reentering the workforce. Another promoted responsible parenting. I also served as president of the San Luis Obispo County Child Abuse Prevention Council. As with homelessness, most child abuse and neglect is caused by people suffering from addiction.
The non-profit for which I am most proud is SafeLaunch. It is the only non-profit organization in the country focused solely on preventing the homelessness, mental illness and severe dysfunction caused by addiction.
Life experience has taught me that throwing more money at “affordable” or free housing, and anticipating a different result is insanity. LA’s Measure HH has produced a surge in the unsheltered population and, with no surprise, is running out of money. DeLeon, Garcetti, et al are ginning up to ask for another bond measure.
At a cost of $20,000 a month, the new city-funded campsite at Borky Flats appears to have no more than 8 residents. The plain truth is that people suffering from mental illness caused by addiction don’t want to live under a roof, or even a tent, provided by watchful government employees. Most prefer to remain “free-range citizens.” And there is no end to the number of programs which represent bottomless pits for taxpayer money, while maintaining the status quo. Chasing “clients” around to beguile them into accepting shelter and services is community crazy-making. It’s not helpful and definitely not humane, but it has become what some cynics call the “Homeless Industrial Complex.”
Recognition of substance abuse and the mental illness it creates as a chronic disease is vital. Addiction is neither a moral failing or a character flaw, and merely feeding and housing people with an incurable affliction will never be successful. Unlike people suffering from every other disease, addicts rarely volunteer for treatment. In fact, they resist it.
The answer to this massive social dilemma is primary prevention. We must prevent kids, before age 14, from getting started on drugs or alcohol. This alone would be a sea change in the trajectory of homelessness because 90-percent of addiction is contracted before age 18.
The SafeLaunch Parent Association, representing thousands of parents who have lost children to addiction, will back any community leader who advocates for primary prevention. SafeLaunch doesn’t judge people or “teach a man to fish” as the parable goes, because a person disabled by addiction can’t learn to “fish”.
SafeLaunch is different. SafeLaunch represents everyone who is sick and tired of the political games and the endless wandering through the desert as our communities degrade and become addiction minefields for our children. We have legalized, commercialized, and promoted excessive alcohol consumption and recreational pharmacology in plain view of our children, and this must end.
Many thanks to our city leaders for their recent costly efforts to get some of the people out of the Salinas riverbed. However, merely doubling down on treating homelessness as a “housing problem” has made LA, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle the urban sewers they are becoming.
Let’s be smarter. Let’s prevent homelessness.
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