Whether a person is homeless as a result of a spiraling drug problem, or abusing drugs in order to cope with life on the street, homelessness and addiction are inexorably linked. Feeding off each other, and feeding on what is perhaps the most vulnerable population, they cause a tremendous amount of suffering and fuel a public health crisis that is hidden until it isn’t, spilling over into the wider world.

Because homelessness and addiction are often so firmly linked, they must be addressed together, with a combination of services that stabilize and treat a person, then prepare them for the next step in what with any luck will be a productive life. And because addiction is such an outsized problem among the homeless, it makes sense to target them in the larger fight against opioid abuse.

That’s the goal of L.D. 1711, which will be the focus of a public hearing Wednesday in Augusta in front of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, at the behest of homeless service provider Preble Street, the bill would create a pilot program combining treatment and housing for up to 50 people.

As written, the bill would provide participants with housing and medication-assisted addiction treatment such as Suboxone or methadone, along with daily therapy and mental health services. Treatment teams would shepherd participants through the process as they work toward recovery, employment and, ultimately, self-sufficiency.

It’s a tough road, but the process created by L.D. 1711 has been shown to work elsewhere. Sometimes addiction leads to homelessness, and sometimes homelessness leads to addiction, but in either case, the person is left without the social support network that’s so important to getting and staying clean.

What’s more, once a person is homeless, survival becomes the top and sometimes only goal – concerns about individual health and personal development are left behind. And even if a homeless person manages to get clean, the temptation to backslide is strong if they stay on the street, with drugs and substance abuse all around.

Initiatives like those described in Gattine’s bill take aim at each of those barriers. Participants are provided with housing, eliminating that source of stress and instability and taking them away from the triggers and temptations of the street. Evidence-based treatment such as Suboxone or methadone is used to quell cravings. Therapy addresses physical, mental and behavioral health issues that are self-defeating and push people toward both addiction and homelessness, and that are additional barriers to the education and employment opportunities the program ultimately offers as a way toward self-sufficiency.

L.D. 1711 would test out this process in Maine, taking in homeless Mainers from both urban and rural areas. It targets just a small aspect of Maine’s vast opioid problem, but one that is particularly grim and filled with hopelessness.

The Legislature this session will have a number of bills to consider related to the opioid epidemic – an area where as a body it has not made enough progress. Certainly, legislators have to make choices. We hope they see L.D. 1711 as a compassionate and smart way to alleviate suffering among Maine’s homeless.


Comments are not available on this story.