In her 5/2/21 Voice of OC community opinion article, Lorri Galloway states flatly, “Drug abuse is the single most defined cause of homelessness.” She cites no studies to back this up, nor does she quote any experts on the causes of homelessness. She allows that “job loss is another cause,” but dismisses it as a primary cause because “loss of jobs is often the result of addiction.” Mental illness is mentioned, not as a cause of homelessness, but only to claim it is “often the result of long-term drug abuse.”

Apparently, in Galloway’s world, the skyrocketing cost of buying or renting a place to live in OC has nothing to do with the increase in the number of people living without a fixed abode. In Galloway’s world, stagnating wages don’t even get a passing mention. Nowhere does she mention the role of domestic violence and the rejection of LGBTQ youth by their parents. This last omission is particularly baffling, given that she is Executive Director of the Eli Home, whose tagline is “Breaking the cycle of child abuse and family violence.”

In Galloway’s alternate reality, correlation implies causation. She states that currently 90% of mothers seeking shelter at Eli Home “are or have recently been drug or alcohol addicted.” She goes on to say that the incidence of homelessness and drug abuse in OC have both increased, as if that proves the latter causes the former. Nowhere does she acknowledge that addiction often follows the loss of housing.

Curiously, Galloway seems to contradict her own theory when she observes that homelessness is more prevalent in north OC, while opioid addiction is more prevalent in south OC.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the most wrong-headed and self-defeating aspect of Galloway’s worldview is the notion that more resources for addiction and mental health treatment are necessary for shelters to be “truly effective.” Shelters are essentially a dead-end in OC, because we have a dire shortage of housing that is affordable to folks scraping by on a minimum-wage job. We also have a severe lack of permanent supportive housing, which includes services (including behavioral and mental health treatments) that some people need in order to remain housed. Living in a shelter is bad for your health, even in the best of times. During a pandemic, it can be a death sentence.

I don’t know what percentage of Eli Home clients end up in stable housing situations, or what is the average duration of their stay there, but no one should be subjected to living in a typical OC shelter for more than a couple weeks. If housing isn’t available when someone enters a shelter, it is unlikely to be available when they leave. Residents of shelters are still without a fixed abode, and are likely to remain so.

The only truly effective approach to ending homelessness is to rapidly produce housing that everyone can afford, in sufficient quantity to house everyone, including those who will lose their homes in the future. (God help us when COVID-related eviction moratoriums are lifted.)

I am not disputing the fact that addiction can play a role in the loss of a job or a home, or the break-up of a family. I support Galloway’s call for more treatment programs for addiction, more detox centers, and more emphasis on mental health issues. But dismissing the primary drivers of homelessness, which are housing costs, wage stagnation and unemployment, and (for women) domestic violence (or in the case of men, incarceration) is grossly irresponsible. Shelters will never solve homelessness, regardless of how good their drug treatment programs happen to be.

Thomas Fielder has been involved in homeless advocacy for more than 3 years, and is Director of Acquisitions for People’s Homeless Task Force OC. He has a Master’s degree in biology and worked in biomedical research his entire career, the last 26 years of which was spent at UC-Irvine. He helped his wife raise 3 children in Anaheim, where they have lived for 37 years.

For a different view on this issue, consider:

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