Stop Blaming the Victims


Stop blaming the victims!!!!

I want to challenge a cruel and inaccurate but long-prevailing national stereotype again today. That is the relationship between chronic homelessness and substance use.

Truth is that many people living out there on our streets didn't start abusing addictive substances until after they became homeless. Some didn't even start using substances like alcohol until they became homeless.

The experience of homelessness is physically painful given ongoing sleep deprivation, dehydration, hunger, freezing temperatures, intense heat and humidity. People often develop arthritis and orthopedic disorders related to sleeping on concrete, on the damp cold ground, in snowdrifts and in mud puddles. People experience hunger pangs, pain, seizures and headaches related to old injuries and recent assaults. Homelessness is so dangerous and so emotionally traumatizing and so deeply degrading and so humiliating that - as several have told me - they could not do it sober.

I don't think I could either.

Chronic homelessness is a form of physical and psychological torture that our culture inflicts upon often disabled human beings, frequently until they die prematurely, painfully and gruesomely.

I am not willing to participate in the decades-long "blame game" and national fiction that rationalizes these deaths as somehow the victims' own faults.

Very often substances are used as medication. As one man told me, freezing is so physically painful that he would drink until he didn't feel the cold anymore and could fall asleep. Sadly, sometimes people like him never wake up...they freeze to death.

Another man told me that getting drunk enough to tolerate freezing to death was how he planned to kill himself. I brought that man to the hospital immediately where he was admitted for nearly a month.

Another man called me twice one winter from downtown Syracuse. He said that he planned to walk all night until 4:00 AM when a coffee shop where he was welcome would open and he could go inside to warm up. Each time he sounded to me like he was slipping into hypothermia and I instructed him each time to go directly to the hospital emergency room where he was admitted for treatment each time.

I dread facing another Syracuse winter. Chronically homeless people - both men and women - have been found burned to death, beaten to death and frozen to death here, all within the past decade or so.

I was able to help get all of the people who I've mentioned in this post housed but it was NOT easy dealing with housing authorities.

Let's deal with reality factors, not with cruel stereotypes. Let us stop blaming the victims. Let us demand that homeless housing authorities become far more responsive to the people who are suffering on our streets.

We must insist upon far more accountability from those organizations receiving billions of dollars every single year to "address" homelessness.