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Drugs and alcohol

Addiction to drugs and/ or alcohol is both a cause and consequence of homelessness. 

The issue

Problems with drugs or alcohol can be part of a person’s spiral into homelessness. Of course not everyone who has problems with alcohol or drugs becomes homeless and not every homeless person has problems with drug or alcohol abuse. However, levels of drug and alcohol abuse are relatively high amongst the homeless population.

During 2013-15, 27% of our clients reported problematic drug/alcohol use (source: Crisis Skylight Final Report of the University of York evaluation). Two thirds of homeless people cite drug or alcohol use as a reason for first becoming homeless. Those who use drugs are seven times more likely to be homeless.

Being homeless is incredibly stressful. There is also a high prevalence of mental health problems amongst the homeless population. It is not uncommon for those traumatised by homelessness to seek solace in drug or alcohol.

In the past few years there has been an increase in the use of new psychoactive substances (formerly known as ‘legal highs’) amongst the homeless population. In 2016 the government passed legislation (the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016) which made it illegal to sell substances that are capable of producing a psychoactive effect. 

The solution

We know that many long-term rough sleepers suffer from a range of health issues including drug and alcohol misuse. For them an effective route out of homelessness is often Housing First. This approach places vulnerable homeless people directly from the street or emergency shelter into permanent independent tenancies. These come with comprehensive but not compulsory support. This works on the assumption that the best way to prepare for independent living is independent accommodation rather than placing someone in a hostel and then supported housing.

Read more about Housing First as part of our section on housing models and types

See also rough sleeping.