Youth Homelessness and Substance Abuse
Youth homelessness and substance abuse among the youth seem to go hand in hand all over the world. The situation that needs to be addressed urgently as its effects are crippling to the society and the economy. The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program Act 1994 defines homelessness as the lack of adequate access to safe and secure housing. This is further defined as access to a housing facility that damages a person’s health, fails to provide access to adequate social amenities, and threatens the person’s health. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare focuses on certain situations. These include living on the street, living in unsafe family circumstances such as in homes with cases of child abuse or domestic violence, and living in refuge accommodation. The youth are persons aged between 18 and 35 years of age. Studies have shown that homeless youth exhibit high rates of substance abuse disorders. Substance abuse is defined as a destructive pattern of using illicit drugs or abuse of over-the-counter drugs for purposes of altering one’s mood. However, substance abuse goes beyond this definition. Some substances such as steroids are abused without the intent of altering the mood. It is important to address the issues related to homeless youth who feel the need to self-medicate in order to eliminate their problems once and for all.
One of the objectives of this paper is to address the causes of homelessness and substance abuse among the youth. Another objective is to discuss the effects of this situation on individual lives, the society, the economy and the country as a whole. Finally, the paper will aim at discussing the way forward. It will aim to provide viable solutions to the issue of homelessness and substance abuse. The topic of youth homelessness and substance abuse is significant for contemporary debate because it is an issue that has escalated to alarming levels and seems to be getting out of hand. As mentioned earlier, it threatens to cripple the society and economy of the country. It also threatens the posterity of the country’s values and traditions, as the future generation is mostly affected. It is a topic that needs to be held presently as leaving it for discussion in the future could prove to be too late. In addition, ripple effects may be experienced in other areas. Studies have shown that people who engage in substance abuse and they do not have a system of support such as a home are prone to suicide thoughts and attempts. In order to avoid such effects, it is important that we address the topic today.
On any given night, hundreds of thousands of people are homeless. More than half of these are youth under the age of 25. It is important to understand that not all homeless people sleep on the streets. Research shows that 40 percent of the homeless people live with their friends or relatives. About 51 percent of them live in boarding houses and supported accommodation services. Only 9 percent of them live on the streets. Some major causes of homelessness include unemployment, which causes poverty, domestic violence, lack of affordable healthcare, mental illness or disorder, lack of affordable housing, forced eviction, release from prison and re-induction into the society and substance abuse. Homelessness is prevalent in Victoria. Figures show that there were about 20,305 homeless people in Victoria. These causes of homelessness however are felt in all parts of the country (Neil & Fopp, 1994).
As seen in the previous paragraph, substance abuse is one of the causes of homelessness. In turn, homelessness may result in substance abuse. Abused substances include alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Drugs include cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and club drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine. Causes of substance abuse include diseases or medical conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, financial stress, combat stress reaction, low self-esteem, grief divorce and teenage experimentation. These factors can be grouped into psychological factors, physical factors, social factors, biological factors and family situations. The causes of both homelessness and substance abuse are inter-related. For instance, forced eviction may induce stress in an individual, causing him to turn to substances. In addition, medical conditions are common as causes of both homelessness and substance abuse. Because they are connected, prevention of one cause would go a long way in ensuring that both homelessness and substance abuse among the youth are curbed.
Effects of homelessness and substance abuse among the youth are varied and are felt across the country. Due to the fact that an individual does not exist on his own, the people around whom he lives or with whom he interacts are affected by his condition. Because of this, several aspects of individual life become affected, such as the society, the economy and the moral values of the country. The effects of homelessness and substance abuse are felt before the ‘causes’ period, during the actual occurrence of the situation and after these problems have been solved. It is therefore important to prevent the problem of youth homelessness and substance abuse rather than waiting for it to occur then trying to solve it as the effects are tenfold.
One of the effects of homelessness on the homeless individual is abuse. Living on the street, in common board houses or with relatives that one may not know makes homeless individuals vulnerable to abuse. Attacks against homeless people are a common occurrence in many parts of the country. The types of abuse range from physical to emotional and psychological. Homeless people, especially those who live on the streets, are often brutally attacked using such weapons as stones and baseball bats especially if they happen to be in a place where they are not wanted. Homeless people are also prone to sexual abuse. Homeless women have been raped because they lack anyone to protect them. Emotional abuse is also a common occurrence. Homeless people living with friends or relatives may be subject to emotional abuse. They may be constantly reminded of their positions and may be required to perform demeaning duties in the home.
Another negative effect of homelessness is that homeless individuals face a greater risk for serious medical conditions. To begin with, lack of affordable healthcare could be the reason they are homeless. The conditions that homeless people live in can lead to serious health risks. These conditions may cause such complications as asthma, respiratory infections and frostbite. Other conditions such as diabetes and tuberculosis may also arise. In addition, homeless people are at a higher risk of getting HIV. Transfer of blood from an infected person to an uninfected person causes HIV. Because of their vulnerability to rape, homeless youth are at a higher risk of contracting HIV (Mission & Macquarie, 2004). In addition, certain activities they may engage in such as sharing of syringes during substance abuse put them at a high risk of contracting HIV and other infections.
Homelessness also has the negative effect of tearing families apart. Some of the causes of homelessness such as eviction and domestic violence result in children being taken away from their parents and being placed in foster homes. Another situation where families are torn apart is in cases where shelters provide rigid rules for admittance. Some shelters do not accept children or boys or some other such rule. Tearing the family apart takes a toll on the children who tend to have numerous infections such as stomach problems and ear infections. The children are also vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This effect usually continues into adulthood, causing personal problems for the individual and social problems for those he associates with. In brief, it has a reverberating effect on others and on the future.
Although there are numerous effects of youth homelessness, a pressing one is that of substance abuse and substance dependency. Most homeless youths look for a way to escape the harsh reality of the homeless world. They find this escape from reality in drugs and alcohol. Studies show that about 30 percent of homeless youths are chronic substance abusers. It is not clear, which condition between the two precipitates the other. Studies suggest that it is a complex relationship. One may argue that an individual is likely to start abusing drugs once he becomes homeless as opposed to becoming homeless due to substance abuse. Whatever the case, this effect of homeless has additional negative effects on the individual’s health.
Substance abuse and reliance has many negative effects, both on the individual and the society in which he lives. They include both short-term and long-term effects. Physical effects of drug use includes constriction of blood vessels which may lead to heart damage, paranoia, fatigue, depression and a strong desire to use more. Withdrawal effects include vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating and aches. Individuals who abuse substances such as heroin may also contract HIV, as the needles used for injection are usually dirty and are shared among users. In addition, increased sexual activity among users places them at a higher risk of other sexually transmitted diseases. Research shows that drug overdose causes thousands of deaths around the world. Alcohol and tobacco use also have negative physical effects on the individual. These include liver and lung malfunctions. Substance abusers also face negative social effects. Because they need money to buy the substances, they engage in socially unacceptable behaviour such as prostitution and burglary. Their oftentimes-violent behaviour pushes them further from the society. The association of substance abusers with drug dealers and gangs prevents them from easily being accepted back into the society. Homeless youths who abuse substances experience numerous negative effects. Again, the effects overlap between homelessness, abuse, and reliance of substances.
Solutions to eliminate this problem continue to be found. The most effective solution is prevention. Homelessness prevention is a cheap and effective way to curb homelessness and substance abuse, compared to curative measures. Prevention assistance should be provided to people are vulnerable to becoming homeless. Prevention is defined as stopping something from happening. Homelessness can be prevented by addressing its causes. For instance, individuals suffering form mental illness should be treated and dependants of alcohol and drugs rehabilitated. In addition, individuals released from prison should be given equal employment opportunities. Proper channels should also be created to make help for domestic violence and abuse accessible to those who need it. Proper stakeholders should also ensure that unemployment levels reduce drastically (Block & Singh, 2002). Most homelessness is caused by poverty, which is caused by, among other factors, unemployment. Another solution to the problem of homelessness is building of additional shelters for the homeless. The government should provide additional funding for the building of shelters and in order to ensure existing shelters are not shut down. In addition, individuals should take it upon themselves to help the homeless or to assist those who are about to become homeless.
The problem of illegal use of substances can also be prevented. Again, this should be done by addressing the causes of the problem. The youth should be made aware of the negative effects of use of drugs and alcohol. Awareness programmes should be held all over the country to educate the young people on what the effects of drug use are in order to prevent teenage experimentation. Again, health authorities need to ensure urgent treatment of those with mental conditions such as schizophrenia. They also need to provide affordable counselling services for those suffering from stress and depression. Schools authorities and parents should ensure that they communicate with the youth in order for them to eliminate low-self esteem issues in the children’s lives. Curative measures also need to be taken. They include support systems for addicts who want to quit, affordable rehabilitation facilities, and incarceration of the drug peddlers.
With the provision of health care being one of the preventive measures of youth homelessness and substance abuse, health care workers should be adequately trained in dealing with homeless people and in people who abuse drugs. Programmes would need to be held in health care institutions across the country for training all health care workers on how to handle such cases. This is especially so in dealing with patients suffering from such mental conditions as schizophrenia. Health care workers would also need to be trained in how to provide care for individuals who have previously been abusing alcohol and drugs (Lowinson, 2005). They would also require training in how to provide counselling services for individuals who may be suffering from stress and depression. Health care workers need to do whatever they can to help alleviate the problem of youth homelessness and substance abuse. Providing free clinics for the homeless could go a long way in lending a hand.
As mentioned earlier, education and training institutions play a huge role in the preventive part of the solution. The youth are easily pressured by their peers to do often wrong things. When it comes to drug and alcohol abuse, many are those who started through teenage experimentation and were unable to stop. Schools and training institutions should hold awareness programmes about the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol. Slogans warning against drug use and music composed for particular campaigns appeal to the youth to refrain from drug and alcohol use.
One of the major causes of homelessness is unaffordable housing. The housing sector needs to address this issue and change certain policies in order to accommodate those who cannot afford current housing. This will see to it that many people avoid eviction because of lack of adequate funds. Homelessness levels will go down as a result of this. The medical sector should also adapt new policies that ensure adequate medical care is accessible to every individual in the country. If policies in the housing and medical sectors were amended, problems of homelessness and substance abuse would be half solved.
Numerous studies conducted here in Australia and all around the world show that youth homelessness and substance abuse are related. The studies show that excessive substance abuse may result in bankruptcy, leaving one homeless, homelessness contributes a great deal in the illegal use of drugs and alcohol (Burke, 1994). It is safe to say that both these problems are plummeting and need to be checked because they are a cause of serious negative effects to the affected individual. In addition, they cause serious negative effects on the society as discussed earlier. The good thing is that youth homelessness and substance abuse can be prevented using a little more effort.
To conclude, it is important that we as a country address immediately the issue of youth homelessness and substance abuse. Primarily, this should be done because all lives are equally important so the homeless youth should be treated with respect. By addressing this problem, the living status of the homeless youth will change for the positive. Secondly, addressing the issue of youth homelessness and substance abuse will improve the standards of the overall society. It will also uplift the whole country as a whole. All stakeholders should ensure that the problem is addressed urgently in order to improve the lives of the homeless youth who turn to drugs and alcohol in order to numb the pain.
Block, S., & Singh, B. (2002). Foundations of Clinical Psychiatry. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Burke, T. (1994). Homelessness in Australia: Causal Factors. Sidney: Australian Government Public Service.
Lowinson, J. H. (2005). Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook. (4th ed.) Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Mission, Australia & Macquarie, Bank, Foundation. (2004). Homelessness: New understanding, new responses. Sidney: Mission Australia.
Neil, C., & Fopp, R. (1994). Homelessness in Australia: Causes and Consequences. Sidney: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.