Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution
Those closest to the problem are closest to the solutions.
To fully understand the complexities of the growing opioid epidemic, we as a society must begin to engage one another without excluding those who are closest to the problem. People who are experiencing homelessness, active addiction from a substance use disorder and mental health challenges need to be at the table. We must consider those who are struggling with these challenges as experts when we invite them to the table to focus on solutions towards ending homelessness and fighting the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia, such as exploring the expansion of low-barrier non-abstinence Housing First programs.
When we approach our fellow Philadelphians living on the streets and under the bridges with empathy and from a place of non-judgment, we as a society begin to realize that we can all learn a lot from each other. As a provider of homeless services at Mental Health Partnerships and Board Member at Pathways to Housing PA, I have learned that people who are living on the streets are much more than their current living status and far greater than their challenges with substance use and mental health disorders.
In the past five years, I have had the honor and privilege to learn that people who are homeless, not all of whom struggle with substance use and mental health disorders, all have a story to tell. Many homeless individuals whom I have met over the past five years have helped protect our freedoms through their service in the United States Armed Forces. Other homeless individuals have shown resilience through their experiences of trauma and psychological distress that have forced them to leave their homes but yet still they go on. Still, other homeless individuals have taught me about the impact of larger systems and challenges through their experiences of falling victim to the latest recession in America.
According to the Philadelphia 2017, Point-in-Time Count ,5,693 Philadelphians are experiencing homelessness. 956 of these individuals are sleeping on our streets or under a bridge or staying in an overnight cafe. To keep Philadelphia being the City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection we must fight for those who are living on the streets of our city. If you stop to talk with a homeless person, you fill them with hope: they will know that they are not alone and that Philadelphians truly care about one another.
You may find yourself in a similar situation one day, how would you want a fellow Philadelphian to treat you? Do you agree that people with lived experience or in active addiction from a substance use disorder should be at the decision-making table seeking solutions to end homelessness and fighting the opioid epidemic?
If you know someone who in your community who is homeless, please contact the 24-hour Outreach Coordination Center Hotline at (215) 232-1984.
Evan Figueroa-Vargas is a Board Member at Pathways to Housing PA, as well as a homeless service provider at Mental Health Partnerships.