"Jumping from hoop to hoop"

Friday, 14 February 2020 - 12:39pm

Ben Finney is a peer mentor at Expert Citizens, and contributed to a recent report for St Mungo’s entitled Knocked back: failing to support people sleeping rough with drug and alcohol problems is costing lives.

The new report from St Mungo’s touches on many of the issues I experienced while I was homeless. I valued being part of the project as a peer researcher, and support many of its conclusions.

The report alludes to the fact that isolation, and being ostracised from society can massively increase the chances of substance abuse, which in turns to homelessness. I would strongly support this view as someone who has misused substances in the past out of loneliness. Being on the streets further creates a sense of dehumanisation, due to the stigma it holds by certain members of society. This in itself is enough to make an individual want to use substances, almost as if they feel they are not spiritually equal to their peers.

A particularly thought-provoking statistic mentioned in the report is the fact that rough sleeping has increased 165% since 2010. Whilst I do not wish to make this a political point, there has been notorious levels of austerity during this time. I cannot believe that this is coincidental. It is universally accepted that cuts to public funding, specifically in this instance to mental health, drug & alcohol services, has vastly detrimental ramifications to society as a whole. One would imagine that cuts of funds to one service will indirectly cause further strain upon our National Health service when people using drugs and alcohol are abusing their substances due to lack of support.

The report also highlights a shocking rise in deaths from drug poisoning among people sleeping rough – which increased by 55% between 2017 and 2018.  In addition to the issues of increased vulnerability and lack of support which the report highlights, I would also hypothesize it is due to the increased level of synthetic narcotics over the past decade. The so called “traditional” drugs such as Cocaine, Heroin, MDMA etc often have a significant street value. Someone living on the streets may struggle to access the funds to acquire this. So called legal highs for example, are often a fraction a price of the aforementioned drugs, so homeless people will be more inclined to choose them. The recent criminalisation of a lot of these substances may have actually had the reverse effect as desired, as now the people who create them now have to frequently alter the formula. This increases the potency, and the likelihood of somebody taking that will be prove fatal. The accessibility to cheap narcotics would also explain the rise in the number of drug addicts on our streets over the past 4 years.

The report touches on people recently discharged from prison. I believe the long term effects of incarceration can have massively detrimental on inmates look after their discharge. People have served prison time will find it significantly harder to obtain employment upon release. This feeling of angst, that there is no prospects to aspire towards is very demoralising to the individual. The despair is enough to make a person lose hope in the system and resort to abusing substances.

The expectations certain services ask of their clients, “jumping from hoop to hoop”, I would regard as too complex, for people who are living in chaotic lifestyles. The first priority for anybody living on the streets should in my opinion to be to secure their accommodation. Their substance abuse problem can be addressed afterwards. Housing First has acknowledged this issue, and works well to sustain a place of living before combating the addiction. However this protocol is not reflected in many other organisations. We need to see well-funded services offering treatment and support, combined with the right accommodation when someone needs it.

The new report has raised the profile of many of these issues, which I was pleased to support in my role as a peer researcher. I would urge people to give it a read, and ask the Government to listen to its recommendations.

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Ben Finney

Peer mentor at Expert Citizens

Ben Finney is a peer mentor at Expert Citizens, and contributed to a recent report for St Mungo’s entitled Knocked back: failing to support people sleeping rough with drug and alcohol problems is costing lives.