The Need

Drug and alcohol addiction is both a cause and a consequence of the often vicious and complex cycle of poverty, homelessness, and poor mental health.

Individuals who struggle with addiction may find it difficult to maintain stable employment and housing due to the terrible effects substances can have on their overall health, wellbeing, and personal life. As addiction can also damage relationships between family and friends, many people can also be left vulnerable and without a proper support network to fall back on. Similarly, the traumatic experience of homelessness and poverty can increase the risk of a person turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their situation.

This relationship is strongly backed up by the statistics. Two-thirds of homeless people cite drugs or alcohol as a reason for first becoming homeless, whilst those who use drugs are 7 times more likely to be homeless themselves (Crisis Report 2017). In Scotland, 19% of 435,853 people assessed as homeless between 2001 and 2016 had evidence of substance abuse (Scottish Government 2018). In 2021, 127 people experiencing homelessness in Scotland lost their lives due to drugs: accounting for the majority cause of all homelessness deaths nationwide (NRS 2022). People living in the most deprived areas were also found to be 15.3 times more likely to due from drugs and 4 times more likely to die from alcohol-related complication when compared with affluent counterparts (Scottish Government 2018).

Substance abuse can also alter brain chemistry and increase the risk of developing mental health disorders like depressions, anxiety, and schizophrenia (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2021). Addiction can also erode self-esteem and exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame, especially if the individual faces stigma from their local community. Reversely, mental health issues can also increase the risk relapsing as people turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

In Scotland, problematic substance use is associated with lower mental wellbeing scores in adults and is estimated to have been a significant factor in 48-56% of suicides between 2008 and 2018 (Scottish Government 2022). Individuals with a past hospital admission for a mental health disorder also had a higher mortality rate for drug-related deaths: being 17.1 per 1,000 person years relative to an overall mortality rate of 12.91 per 1,000 person years (McAuley et al. 2022). In England, nearly two-thirds (63%) also said they were struggling with another mental health need (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities 2021).

Our Response

We aim to walk alongside participants through every stage of recovery: from the moment of crisis all the way to post-rehabilitation. Our approach is also fundamentally holistic, considering the whole person through a combination of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support. This enables us to help participants from all angles, including those that join addiction, poverty, and mental health together.

We don’t wait for people in need to come to us – we make first conduct through regular street outreach; informing people of our services, giving out emergency supplies (e.g., sleeping bags), and signposting to other agencies we know can help. His proactive approach enables us to reach people who have often fallen through the gaps and now struggle to trust and ask for help.

We also host drop-in cafés where people can socialize and connect with us on their own terms over food, games, and hot drinks. Surveys given to participants show the enormous mental health benefits of such spaces, with the vast majority of responses (70% and above) saying the drop-in cafés reduced feelings of isolation; increased confidence/self-esteem; and helped participants to make relevant and meaningful connections with others.

Participants pursuing recovery tailored, one-to-one counselling in the form of Key Work, where they are able to fill out a Personal Transformation Plan [PTP] to help them choose the details of their journey, set personal goals, and track their progress across ten different themes (e.g., Recovery and Addiction, Mental Health and Wellbeing, etc.) This approach enables us to offer support that is well-informed and personalized to suit a person’s particular needs and circumstances. Participants may also benefit from recovery groups, where they can share their own experiences with others who may understand what they’re going through and learn psychological tools (e.g., CBT, substitution) and spiritual aids like forgiveness. These types of peer support groups are tried-and-tested – reducing levels of substance use, relapse rates, and return-to-homelessness rates relative to what is common in the substance-using population (Tracy and Wallace 2016). Support workers also liaise with partner residential rehabs (e.g., Teen Challenge) and/or GPs and local drug clinics for detox; ensuring participants get the right level and choice of support to help them become drug/alcohol free.

Our aftercare services – providing job/life skills training and supported, move-on accommodation – also enable the people we work with to get back onto their feet and re-integrate into their wider community. We use volunteering experiences and small-to-medium sized projects to help participants expand their CV, gain valuable employability skills (e.g., teamwork, timekeeping, self-starting), and practice trades like joinery, painting/decorating, and gardening; enabling participants to secure steady employment and a means of breaking free from the poverty-addiction cycle.

Nov 7, 2023