Sacramento Supervisor: Homelessness Is An Addiction Problem

[Editor’s Note: Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Frost posted this on her Facebook page last week, discussing the results of a work program for the homeless to transition participants to becoming self-reliant, productive members of society. It was a failure. And as Supervisor Frost explains, that failure stemmed from ubiquity of drug and alcohol addiction among the homeless.  Another lesson drawn by Supervisor Frost is that “point-in-time” count data is useless as a policy guide. 

The results of this program are pertinent to Anaheim and other communities because they stem from human nature. People are the same all over.  Furthermore, self-appointed homeless advocates tend to deny or minimize the reality that the homeless problem is primarily an addiction problem. The “Housing Is A Human Right” crowd advocates simply ensconcing homeless individuals in apartments and problem solved!

Councilman Jose F. Moreno sees the issue through a Marxian prism, claiming homelessness is a “man-made” phenomenon caused by “men who’ve made decisions about our economies and the way that our democracy will not work for some, but for others.”

Moreno and homeless advocates have lately expanded their economic argument by blaming homelessness on greedy landlords, saying people lost their jobs and therefore couldn’t pay rent and became homeless. Mind you, they were arguing this prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, during record-low unemployment.  Not only do they misdiagnosed both homelessness and housing affordability, but apparently never asked themselves if addiction precipitated loss of job and income, and eventual homelessness.  Charitable organizations like the Salvation Army and the OC Rescue Mission have long understood this reality, which is why mandatory abstinence from drugs and alcohol are integral aspects of their efforts to help the homeless.

Even the language used by homeless advocates impedes clear thinking about the issue. They reflexively talk about “people experiencing homelessness” as if it’s something that just happened to them one day, like catching a cold. This misguided attempt to avoid “blaming” denies agency and ultimately makes it more difficult to help the homeless (to the extent homeless individuals will accept help).  

And now, Supervisor Susan Frost’s frank and illuminating account of this work program.]

While I know COVID-19 is on all our minds right now, I wanted to share some news with you about a homeless program that I spearheaded that I have been writing about over the past two years.

In March 2018 I wrote on this Facebook page outlining why I thought Sacramento County was in need of a work program for people who are homeless. In March 2019 I put theory into reality and officially rolled out a one-year trial program that would not only employ people who are homeless but also work to beautify Sacramento County at the same time. I promised you that after the trial was completed, I would report back on how effective the program was.

I am sad to report that the program ended largely in failure – but we did learn some important lessons. I want to take this opportunity to explain to you why it failed, and what we learned. But before that, I want to give you a refresher on exactly how the program functioned.

40 homeless people were planned to be identified who were both willing to work and be clean from drugs and alcohol. Shelter would be secured for them, and they would clean the American River Parkway for minimum wage pay in the morning, and go through a job training program in the construction industry in the afternoon. After leaving the program they would then get help in finding employment by getting introduced to employers, being placed in internships, and receiving certificates that enable them to earn more than minimum wage.

Unfortunately, we were only able to get 8 people out of a goal of 40 enrolled in the program, with even less graduated. By far the biggest reason for this failure was because the people in our program could not stay off drugs. Not only could they not stay clean, but we couldn’t even find people who wanted to try getting clean. And we aren’t talking just about drugs like marijuana, we are talking about extremely dangerous drugs like methamphetamine and crack cocaine. There were other problems with the program as well, such as showing up to work on time and a hesitance to work specifically in the construction industry. But those problems paled in comparison to the drug abuse.

The last official homeless count done less than a year ago showed that Sacramento County has over 5,500 homeless people living within our borders. And out of those 5,500, we could only find 8 who were willing to be drug-free. This is a startling statistic and one that has caused me to learn two important lessons from this endeavor.

The first lesson I learned is that we must solve the underlying problems that homeless people have before we can work on job training. It is a wasted effort and a drain on the taxpayers for no benefit. We have to solve their drug and alcohol dependence before we can expect them to responsibly hold down a job.

The other lesson I learned is that the data we receive from the federally mandated point-in-time homeless survey cannot be trusted. In the most recent iteration of that survey from 2019, the data told us that only 9% of homeless people claim alcohol or drugs prevents them from keeping a job or maintaining stable housing. An article in one Sacramento paper even claimed this data proves it is a “Myth” that homeless people all use drugs. At the time I severely questioned this data, but now I know for certain that it is faulty.

Even though this program itself was not successful, I am still glad that we did it and think there is great value to learning the lessons that we have. I also take great personal issue with new government programs that are started and turn out to be ineffective, yet get funded for eternity – so I am happy that we have quickly changed directions once we found out things weren’t working.

I still believe that finding jobs for people who are homeless is an important piece to this overall problem that we are not looking close enough at. But I now realize with much greater clarity that there are bigger problems we have to get a handle on first.

5 comments

  1. You are right on the homeless drug/alcohol dependency issues and them needing to be solved or managed. I was homeless in Santa Ana, Ca for a couple years 2017-2019 and I can honestly say I never met a sober person out there on the streets. Not one. I thought possibly a few were not using but would soon learn that was not the case. Even the ones that were physically disabled from non drug related injuries, hereditary diseases, mental illness, etc. were addicts and did not seem to have any interest in working at the time. Embarrassing as it is to admit, employment was the last thing on my mind out there.

  2. I know addiction is amongst the homeless but I don’t believe all homeless were addicts I believe that being homeless with kids is the worst situation I have ever been in and I had a job but it becomes so overwhelming you can’t make it day to day it’s a struggle from morning til night with child care transportation I was blessed to have dragged myself out just to find out I had heart disease lost my job my apt and back homeless so please don’t group homeless all together and label it an addiction therefore a choice you got toget them in a better place right away give information before they become homeless and resources available to families commercials radio whatever so they may get to testable life once in the streets your mind is in overdrive to protect yourself n family to provide food and hopefully shelter notget taped n robbed by those who have homes.

    • Sharon, i am sorry to hear of you struggles but you would have been a successful participant in this program- one of the 8. I am in the psychiatric field working on front line in ED and this article is spot on correct. We need to redirect govt money to be more effective., especially for those who want the help!

  3. Is there any way I can get in touch with the person who did this? If so can someone please let me know. Thabk you

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