In 2003, the National Coalition for the Homeless conducted a study that found 38% of people surviving on the street suffer from alcohol dependency, with another 26% addicted to drugs. Despite the prevalence of this issue, there are no updated numbers to cite. I know that those numbers have risen in the past 16 years because of the opioid epidemic and other major factors.
In fact, I suspect that those 2 figures are less than half the actual number, because of the prevalence of substance abuse and mental illness in our society, but also because questioning an individual or surveying people and asking them if they have s substance use disorder is akin to asking people in jail if they are guilty, or asking children if they or their siblings made the mess in the kitchen. The majority of people that are serving time will tell you they are not guilty; the majority of children will blame it on their siblings or the dog. Most people who are homeless have a substance use disorder, even if they are in the pre-contemplation stage. When asked, I do believe that most homeless will see no relation between their drug use and homelessness, and they will not answer completely or honestly.
For over a decade of treating thousands of Nevadans in our treatment center for substance abuse disorders, it was not unusual for people coming to our rehab to have little to no insight into the depths of their addiction. Denial is both cunning and powerful. The first step in treating the individual is for them to admit there is a problem; that can take days or weeks of treatment.
Expecting homeless people being surveyed to know they are addicted, to actively report, and to base funding or treatment options off of this imprecise (and old!) data shows a lack of understanding of the disease of addiction, a lack of understanding of the homeless issue, and a lack of understanding of how to positively impact humanity
Homelessness is a local issue to Las Vegas, one that has become front and center since the past few years has seen revival and gentrification in many of our cities older areas. Homelessness, at its core, is interrelated with not just poverty, but mental illness and addiction. It affects all of us as health, social, and economic issues. Dave has a plan to pull the community together to focus on solving the complex problems that arise when people don’t have homes. We can join with other cities who are gaining amazing strides in getting the homeless, and those suffering from mental health and addiction, safe and off the streets. Dave has the 30-year, proven background to successfully work with the Mayor, Council, and citizens to solve these issues. Dave will support the current, proven operators to expand the capacity for dealing with homeless people through housing, treatment, rehabilitation, and intensive case management methods.
A three-tier approach will be used to solve the growing homeless issue in Las Vegas.
1) Las Vegas needs to support and encourage its existing social services providers to expand the number of shelter beds as well as assist the providers in implementing programs to address addiction and mental health, as well as occupational and medical problems in a continuum. If we shelter the homeless, then we must transition some of them to behavioral treatment programs so that they can receive adequate treatment and care. Transitioning them from inpatient to outpatient treatment, coupled with half-way and three-quarter houses, is an important step in facilitating these individuals into becoming workers and homeowners, with the pride and satisfaction that comes with this process.
2) We need to educate our community on why it is important to stop supporting panhandlers and, instead, directing them towards shelter and care. This program will be promoted and operated in tandem with taxi and rideshare companies to offer transport to shelters from the streets, with the ultimate goal to stop the perverse incentive that is currently created by good people trying to help by giving cash to panhandlers.
3) The city and county will need to create an ordinance to eliminate sleeping on the streets of Las Vegas because people should sleep in beds, not on sidewalks. As long as we have shelter beds available we should not permit camping within the city of Las Vegas. We need to encourage Clark County, Henderson, and North Las Vegas to also develop shelters, educate individuals on where they are and how many beds are available, and help with transportation to them.
Gathering the data and integrating the HMIS system that is currently in place to track, intervene and measure outcomes is a critical and currently underutilized resource that can help us with battling the growing homelessness problem.
As part of the above initiatives, Dave plans to work with the law firms handling the opiate manufacturer lawsuits to help direct settlement funds towards the devastating effects addiction has created on the community. “The opiate manufacturer lawsuits need to be maximized to stop future problems and to help clean up the horrific consequences of this heinous marketing effort via Big Pharma.”
Read about some of the other issues facing Las Vegas, Nevada.