Homelessness is not slow suicide

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
By the time alcoholism has put someone out on the street isn’t it slow suicide. I do think all people deserve help, regardless of their situation, and if I decide to give a homeless person money I generally make a point of not thinking about how they’ll spend it. But taking a moment to think about it, does it actually help them if the money is spent on booze?

realsocialskills said:

I don’t think “slow suicide” is an accurate description. If someone is homeless and asking for money, they’re not trying to die; they’re trying to survive.

Spending most of their money on alcohol or other drugs does not mean that someone is trying to die. It can mean that their life is difficult and they’re doing the best they can right now.

Addiction to alcohol or other drugs will usually kill someone in the long run through organ failure. If you think of that as the only thing that matters, you’re going to misunderstand the situation badly. 

Here’s something else that matters: If someone quits something they’re addicted to without a support system, that can often kill them a lot faster than the drug use.

Chemical dependence on a substance means that it has become a physiological necessity. If someone is a heavy drinker to the point of physical dependency, quitting without medical support is physically dangerous. People can die from alcohol withdrawal. Suddenly cutting off a homeless addict’s supply is not doing them any favors. 

Further, sometimes people drink because the situation they’re in is unbearable. Sometimes, people drink to make things tolerable enough that they can stand to remain alive. Ideally, people should transition to coping that are less physically damaging and allow them to survive longer and function better. Not everyone is in a place to do that. If heavy drinking is the main thing standing between someone and suicide, it’s much better than they should keep drinking than it is that they should kill themselves.

If someone wants to take those risks, it’s a courageous thing to do and they deserve a lot of respect for it. Being willing to take those risks shouldn’t be seen as a precondition for someone being worthy of help.

People in difficult situations with no access to better coping mechanisms than drinking still deserve life. And they need money to survive.

It’s urgently important to make support more available. (One thing that is especially important is getting people places to live that do not require them to be sober or attempting sobriety. It’s much more humane, effective, and affordable to give people housing not attached to coerced participation in programs aimed at changing them.)

It’s also important to create support systems that help people *before* they get to such desperate circumstances. (Some areas in which dramatically more is needed: disability services, support for veterans, support for children who age out of foster care, noncoercive mental health care, affordable housing, and employment opportunities for those who need modifications and support).

In the meantime, people who are living on the streets with no effective access to support needed to make things better need money to survive. Even if that means they’re spending most of it on alcohol.

They’re trying to survive in very, very difficult circumstances. That’s honorable, and worthy of respect.

tl;dr Preventing homeless people from having access to alcohol is not an effective or respectful way of helping them.