Confronting addiction in the homeless


People who see me
Think I must be cold,
They do not know
The numbness which protects me.

People who see me
Think I must feel shame,
They do not realise
That I am past caring.

People who see me
Look away in guilt,
They think I should not be
What I am.

People who see me
Do not see
That I live in a different world.

Anna Stirling Pope, June 2014

Homelessness can hit any of us at any time in our life. A wrong choice or a bad start in life, unemployment, addiction are all routes into it. Homeless people come from all walks of life from trades people to caterers; from bank managers to managing directors.

Just like becoming addicted, no one dreams or plans of becoming homeless, it can happen to anyone. Sadly, it can lead to a premature death. It can literally kill. Sadly, it is often a matter of when and how. The facts are:

people are 9 times more likely to commit suicide than someone in the general population. The average life expectancy of a homeless male is 47. For a homeless female the news is even worse. It is just 43.

Many people who fall victim to homelessness and/or are vulnerable, have a great many skills, often circumstances and tragedies from the past have hid these. This often leaves the person's self-esteem devalued. They may have felt rejected by a society where we are always trying to be better, faster, cheaper, and more efficient. A rapid microwave society where if it does not work 'throw it away and buy a new one.' People that do not fit into what is considered 'acceptable' or 'normal' can find themselves discarded too. Sadly, people today are so often dispensable as a younger 'more efficient' person takes their place.

Addiction could be a route into homelessness, or it can be something which helps somebody to cope with actually being homeless, numbing the pain from the situation. Maybe the person has quite literally lost everything. Even their home.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most important things, and the things we most often take for granted:

"One of the oldest human needs is to have someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night" Margaret Mead

Homeless people can start to believe that nobody cares about them

Whatever your drug, or behaviour or whatever that you are struggling with; have you found out how much will satisfy you? The answer: just a little more! So, the story continues, but the secret is you are using the wrong hole filler! That is a hole which only God can fill!

The Way, pointing people not to other people, but to Jesus, is aimed at giving people a fresh start in life, restoring them to effectiveness, more than just recycling or rehabilitating them, helping them to have a total transformation! That is what the Gospel does in a changed person's life, it causes a complete turnaround. For some people this happens gradually. In others the transformation happens much quicker. We are all different and God treats us all as individuals, meeting us where we are.

In God's eyes none of us are worthless we are all valued in His sight. God wants to regenerate each one of us - Ezekiel Chap. 36 verses 25-27 and He began the process by sending His Son Jesus. God wants us to be free from our baggage and addictions so that we can serve Him; 2 Timothy Chap. 2 verse 21 "…a vessel for honour sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work."

Establishing a relationship with the person is at the root of the Gospel. With the woman at the well in John Chap. 4, Jesus spoke to her on her own territory. He offered her something she wanted. We have something other people want. Like the woman at the well sometimes these people do not even realise it is available.

The road to recovery, as we all know, is often a long slow process.

Recovery is not an event, it happens over a period of time.

This may even involve the person returning to their old way of life. For many people the struggle with their addictive behaviour can be a continual battle. We all have good days and bad days, then something happens, and we make a wrong choice. As Christians we are all aware of the daily struggle to keep pressing on with God, but we all know that whatever happened yesterday, however close to God we were, today He can seem like a million miles away.

Rehabilitation and restoration can take a variety of forms. It can be undertaken in the community or for more complex problems, more intense treatment in a residential setting.

How many people might want to look at an alternative lifestyle? If we have 200 addicted people who we are having contact with we may feel that we should have 200 people wanting to be rehabilitated. A lot of course depends on the person, and where they are at themselves. Some people are unaware of the options and it really does depend in some cases, on how we present it to them. Other people of course may not be at that stage where they are ready to take on change. They may still be at the pre-contemplative stage. They may require further information or motivational conversation. See: 'The theory of the cycle of change' Prochaska & DiClementi.

Just like Jesus in His conversation with the woman at the well, as above, we need to meet the people where they are at, sometimes physically, but also emotionally, spiritually and gently lead them to Jesus.

Walk a mile in my shoes...

See what I see

Hear what I hear

Feel what I feel

Then maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do

Till then, don’t judge me

Author Unknown

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