Emergency mental health and addiction recovery services have to be made available on-demand, so that the moment someone is ready to recover we can welcome them on their journey. Neighborhood-based portals, emergency mobile services, and volunteers willing to be everything – housing provider, friend, family, and advocate – to support someone’s recovery are all badly needed.
It seems incredible given how much we talk about the importance of mental health treatment and addiction recovery services, but right now when someone living on the streets is ready to recover, we have nothing.
I just became aware of this recently while helping a friend who struggles with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, narcolepsy and a body worn out from a previous alcohol addiction where he imbibed a gallon of hard liquor daily for over 10 years. He is finally ready to leave meth – the holy hell of all addictive substances – behind.
We’ve been waiting for that moment since his transition to my household from a tent in Denny Park. It took 6 months, but that day arrived. I figured when he was ready, we could show up someplace and he could begin detox and recovery, but no. It took almost a month to get started. A month when he could have changed his mind. A month when he could have overdosed from the fentanyl laced drugs that killed 93,000 people in our country last year.
Thankfully he hung in there, but then he’s been stabilizing for 6 months and that likely made a difference. I’ve seen people crying in the encampments that are ready, too, but now that I realize just how nowhere we are with on-demand services, it’s certainly no wonder the homeless population and overdose deaths are growing.
I use the metaphor, The Good Ship, because in years past I wracked my brain to visualize a neighborhood-based recovery portal concept and I landed on that idea. A place where someone could report to for recovery. A triage center with a warm embrace. A place that friends and family could accompany a loved one to when they were ready. A mobile service that arrived within a few minutes, just like Medic One.
At the time, I imagined it a place that was literally a ship. That idea came from my naïve early thoughts that we could just put people there to recover. Of course now I know that you don’t just decide to “treat” mentally ill or addicted people, they have to be ready. But when they are ready, we have to be ready and right now, we’re not.
I still cling to the idea of a real ship that arrives at ports of call around Puget Sound on a schedule so people can look forward to it and plan accordingly, but I’ll settle for a metaphor. A friendly storefront, a mobile van, and foster friends and families willing to accompany the recovering person on their journey.
The next time someone tells you that homelessness is simply a housing problem, please speak up for the need for emergency mental health and addiction recovery services as well as the need for people to be everything for somebody who is ready to recover – housing provider, friend, family, and advocate – to support their recovery. It’s also worth mentioning that helping someone you’re not related to and receiving support from someone you’re not related to can sometimes make all the difference.