Sleeping Rough. Why Do It?

I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert on this issue, after all I am merely someone who is homeless, but an individual I know asked why, if temporary accommodation were available, there are chose who do not make use of it?

I suspect it may come down to the rules that go with living in temporary accommodation. You have to be in by 11pm. That is not a spectacularly onerous requirement although in a city like Edinburgh where social events only truly begin to occur from 9pm onwards it can be an issue as it curtails your ability to maintain a social life, at least on Fridays and Saturdays (what, just because I’m homeless I’m not allowed to at least try and maintain some connection with normalcy?).

But there are two far more onerous rules that are, when you consider the people to whom they are being applied, highly counter-productive.

The first is that you are not going to be permitted into the accommodation if you are drunk (or otherwise intoxicated) and the second is that you are not permitted alcohol or any illegal drugs upon the premises.

You can superficially understand the reasoning behind these rules but upon applying further thought you see why are seriously flawed.

Clearly, if someone is drunk to the point of being disruptive then you would not want them on the premises, yet that is true of any individual regardless of their housing situation. If they are drunk enough to be disruptive then call the police and have carted off to cool their heels for being Drunk & Disorderly or for being in Breach of the Peace. The police may not necessarily like this use of their resources but it is one of the functions they are employed to perform. By applying a blanket ban then you are also impacting upon those who are not disruptive or belligerent drunks.

You can also understand why currently prohibited drugs are not permitted upon the premises owing to the legal situation and liability risk, though a blanket ban on alcohol makes little to no sense. It is an entirely legal product to possess and there is no apparent issue with the toxic, carcinogenic use of tobacco within peoples’ rooms.

Yet this leads to another issue. Why are so many who are homeless actually in that position? The answer is that many find themselves in an overlap of psychiatric and substance dependency issues. Especially alcohol.

So by setting the rules up such that to get support you are not allowed to utilise a substance upon which you are dependent then you are automatically seeking to preclude some of the very people most in need of support.

Further, alcohol dependency is unlike most other addictions in one critical fashion. Due to the biochemistry involved, alcohol and its metabolites become a substitute for the enzyme GABA and the body stops producing GABA. This is not a problem when you are still drinking. It does however become one where a person stops drinking. Most of us are familiar with the DT’s and the term jitterbug actually derives from a description of alcoholics in Prohibition/Jazz-era Harlem (he’s jittery as a dunebug…). These shakes and seizures result from any appropriate pathway to perform the function that the GABA or alcohol had been supporting, and it takes time for the body to resume production of GABA.

This period can be fatal. I’ve seen figures that would suggest that, under certain use cases, a medically unassisted withdrawal from alcohol can have a 30% mortality rate. The current mechanism for managing withdrawal from alcohol is a controlled programme of a slowly diminished dosage of a benzodiazepine (typically chlordiazepoxide a.k.a. Librium) over a period of seven days then one of the chemicals on the market which is designed to produce a vomit-reflex/allergy response when alcohol is also consumed which is taken in a managed fashion for a period of a month along with appropriate support and counselling.

In other words, forcing an alcoholic to just stop is skirting very near the bone for attempted murder, and nedical professionals involved in this area specifically advise alocholics that under no circumstances are they to ‘just quit’ by going cold turkey. It’s painful for a smackhead but it won’t kill them. It will for an alcoholic.

In such circumstances, where you experience grand mal shakes, seizures and blackouts and your heart could stop, would you agree to go through or suffer such an onerous requirement? Of course not. And I suspect it is asinine rules such as these which cause people to remain on the streets.

This does, however, bring us onto the Government’s ever more authoritarian rules that it wishes to place on those in receipt of benefits who have drink or drugs problems. For some reason, the State seems to be functioning under the belief that you can just order an addict to stop being an addict by virtue of an arbitrary order. You can’t.

You need treatment places, appropriate support and a desire on the part of the addict to quit. Without these things then nothing will change.

Except the treatment places aren’t there and no-one is willing to fund them. I’m considered a priority case for in-patient detox and am awaiting a place becoming available. If I get the call then I am in the next day.

I’ve been waiting for a month with no word on when I’m likely to get a spot.

The Government is out of its tiny authoritarian mind if it thinks its ideas regarding this are going to work…

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