The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) reports that there are more than 580,000 homeless individuals in the United States. About 46,000 of these people – or approximately 8% of the U.S. homeless population – live in the city of Los Angeles. As local, state, and national leaders examine both possible causes and potential solutions for this crisis, many have focused on the connection between homelessness and addiction.
Connection Between Homelessness and Addiction
Experts estimate that as many as two-thirds of people who have experienced homelessness also have a history of addiction to alcohol or another drug.
Although this statistic emphasizes the connection between homelessness and addiction, it does not conclusively establish a cause-effect relationship. In other words, this association alone is not proof that addiction causes homelessness, nor is it evidence that being homeless will cause a person to develop an addiction.
What’s most likely is that substance use disorders can be a risk factor for homelessness, just as being unhoused can put a person at risk for substance abuse and addiction. For example:
- The devastation of addiction can include job loss, long-term unemployment, and financial distress. Someone who experiences these setbacks without having the support of family and friends can easily find themselves unhoused.
- A person who is forced to live on the streets may turn to alcohol or another drug in an attempt to cope with fear, despair, and other difficult emotions. The longer a person relies on substances for this form of self-medication, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.
Another commonality between homelessness and addiction is mental illness:
- According to an August 2021 review in the journal PLOS Medicine, studies have found that the rate of mental illness among unhoused people is between 56.3%-93.3%.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that 37.9% of people who have a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness.
As these statistics indicate, the effort to reduce homelessness in the United States must include services for individuals who have been living with addiction and/or mental illness.
Why Is There a Growing Addiction and Homeless Problem in Los Angeles?
There is no simple answer to the question of why so many people in Los Angeles are struggling with homelessness and addiction. As is the case with most public health concerns, myriad factors have contributed to this problem. Here are just three:
- Size: With a population of about 3.9 million people, Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the United States. To put this into context, 20 states in the U.S. have a smaller population than LA. As the number of people in a location increases, so does the risk for various problems, including homelessness and addiction.
- Fewer options, higher costs: As LA’s population has increased, the availability of housing has not kept pace. With more people and fewer options, demand increases, which allows sellers and landlords to raise their prices. The resultant higher cost of housing puts another barrier in place for people who are seeking shelter.
- Access to drugs: From the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s to recent increases in fentanyl-related overdoses, drug problems in the United States typically hit larger cities first. In addition to being close to the nation’s southern border, Los Angeles is also home to one of the largest ports in the nation. This increases the ability of smugglers to bring drugs into the area.
What is Being Done to Solve Homelessness and Addiction in LA?
On Dec. 12, 2022 – her first official day in office – Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency to address homelessness in the city. The primary goal of this declaration was to eliminate regulations that had slowed efforts to build or acquire housing for currently unhoused individuals.
Other objectives that were included in the mayor’s declaration included:
- Decreasing the number and size of homeless encampments
- Reducing the number of evictions of currently housed people
- Increasing housing placements
- Increasing the development of new affordable housing options
- Expanding access to mental health and addiction treatment
Bass told the Associated Press that her administration’s initiatives were designed to move at least 17,000 currently homeless LA residents into housing by the end of her first year in office.
The following are just a few examples of the many organizations and individuals who are also working to address the dual crises of homelessness and addiction in Los Angeles:
- Established in 2015, the California Community Foundation’s Home L.A. Fund has been offering low-interest loans to nonprofit organizations that build houses and provide services for homeless people in LA county.
- In December 2022, the County of Los Angeles Homeless Initiative launched the Skid Row Action Plan, which is designed to move more than 2,500 people into housing – and provide them with services – by the end of 2025.
- The Los Angeles Mission, a faith-based nonprofit organization that was founded in 1936, offers an array of services and programs to support unhoused individuals and families. The Mission’s programming includes emergency services, food boxes, legal assistance, career development, and help finding permanent housing.
- On August 1, 2023, the LA City Council approved a request from the mayor’s office for $7.8 million to fund a pilot program that will offer residential addiction treatment to members of the city’s homeless population.
Contact Los Angeles Detox Today
If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with addiction, LA Detox is here to help. Treatment options at our addiction treatment center in Los Angeles, California, include detoxification, residential care, and outpatient programming. We serve adults who have become addicted to alcohol and other drugs, as well as those whose substance use problems are accompanied by certain co-occurring mental health concerns.
In every program and at every level, you can expect to receive customized care and close personal support from a team of highly skilled professionals. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.