WA Addresses Post-Treatment Homelessness

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man holding face homeless

Homelessness has always been an issue for people new to recovery. After all, it usually takes hitting bottom for a person to seek recovery options. While recovery is still possible, and many treatment centers still offer services, there are more challenges for people seeking recovery than ever. One major problem that people face when they leave treatment is finding a place to live. For so many recovering addicts, finances are tight or nonexistent, and possessions are lost entirely or are in storage. While Medicaid can usually pay for drug treatment, there is a fear of homelessness upon completion of programs.

In Washington state, during the height of the pandemic, they are rushing to close this gap and help people in recovery stay drug and alcohol-free in a space of their own. Thousands of young people with addiction and mental health issues are left homeless every year after completing programs.

Homelessness is Destabilizing After Treatment

In Washington state, over a quarter of young people on Medicaid find themselves with nowhere to go once they are discharged from mental health or substance abuse programs.

For many people, the move to a shelter is jarring. Homeless people are typically booted out of the shelter around 6 or 7 AM, when they are then cast upon the street until the shelter re-opens. If they’re sick or unwell, they still leave the shelter. Most homeless people using the shelter system are forced to find ways to occupy their time. In cities, it’s common to find the homeless population cooling down each summer in the libraries. Others may choose instead to ride the metro or bus system aimlessly.

The endless (and sometimes arbitrary) rules, including a curfew, meal schedules, and lockout times, can often seem dehumanizing to people in recovery. It can be very lonely and challenging to work toward goals in these situations.

Hopeful Options for People in Recovery

Washington state will now make housing a part of a person’s treatment goals for anyone leaving mental health programs, juvenile detention, or treatment centers. The state is also planning on funding and planning more sober housing options for people who are leaving treatment. Homelessness can be avoided or subverted when there is planning and assistance available.

For many homeless clients who leave treatment right now, there is a waitlist for housing options. “Rapid rehousing” may be something a person must wait for a year to get onto. The government will then pay the first year’s rent for a client, who will then need to find employment stable enough that they can save for bills and emergencies. Hopefully, at the end of this process, they can continue their housing by paying the rent and other expenses themselves. Often they’re priced out of a lease renewal and must try to find a new home quickly.

Halfway houses are usually available to people who are formerly incarcerated, and there is also a strict schedule to stick to. For formerly addicted residents, this regimen tends to encompass aftercare and treatment. It may be hard to find a job in these circumstances, but nobody is pushed out to the street without a checklist of places to go or things to do.

Sober housing availability varies, but it’s an ideal way for people to transfer from inpatient drug treatment to the outside world. In sober housing, there is structure, and 12-step meetings are mandatory. There are usually team trust-building exercises, planned outings, aftercare, and other support systems in place to help a recovering person build on their success.