The second in our July series about why some individuals are harder to move to housing than others, this is a post about substance use disorders, especially alcohol and drug addiction.
We make it a policy to avoid calling the police at the shelter, since most of our guests have already had enough trouble with law enforcement to last them several lifetimes. When we do have to call, however, it is almost always because we have a guest who shows up so drunk or high that we cannot safely keep them in shelter. Public safety officers come and administer a breathalyzer or other sobriety test, and then whisk these guests off to detox for 48 hours (the nearest detox facility is in New Ulm, 30 minutes from shelter). Many of them repeat this pattern again and again over the course of a season.
Addiction is such a complicated disease, and often begins as self-medication for undiagnosed mental health issues or as a coping mechanism for the stress that comes with being unhoused, un- or underemployed, and unsupported. There are genetic predispositions as well, and environmental factors, such as exposure to drugs and alcohol at very young ages. For most of our beloved users, the reasons they have become so deeply enmeshed in their addiction are layered as deep as the ocean, and most of them are fearful of diving in, knowing those depths are full of creatures they’d rather not confront.
Our folks with chronic substance use disorders are among the hardest to house. They’ve burned bridges with case workers across the county by failing to show up for appointments, or promising to go to treatment then changing their minds at the last moment, or flunking out of program after program. They have criminal records, especially if their substance of choice is illegal, and in Mankato there is literally one landlord (really, a slumlord) who can be counted on to rent to those with drug offenses. Even for those who go to treatment, who put in the terrible and painful work toward recovery, their pasts follow them closely in a small community like this one, and they are constantly surrounded by those who knew them only as users, and who tempt them regularly to relapse.
True to our name, Connections Ministry strives to bring community and relationships back to the lives of our beloved addicted neighbors, because it is often said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. We have intentionally set our barriers to obtain shelter low, so that we have a chance to love those whose addiction has lied to them and told them they are unloveable. We continue to maintain relationships even when we have to send people to detox, or temporarily ban them after a substance-fueled disrespectful night at shelter. We know that our chronic users are just as beloved as we are by God, and we also know their belovedness is not often communicated to them by the systems they encounter daily.
Every season, we see some returning folks who remain unhoused largely because of their addiction. Our community lacks resources to treat such deep addiction, and most of what they receive in detox or short jail stints actually worsens their isolation and sense of defeat. Despite these odds, we also see every season folks who do the brave work of deciding to go to treatment, committing to the daily work of recovery, and building new sober lives in this community and elsewhere. All of these neighbors, those seeking recovery and those not there yet, deserve our compassion and connection to adequate resources, love and support. And most of all, they deserve housing, which is foundational to anyone’s ability to find a stable and secure life. –Pastor Collette