I am now into my fourth year of managing a church homeless night shelter as well us other activities that bring me into contact among homeless people. Given the nature of what we are dealing with I long ago realized that things will not always go smoothly and have been pleasantly surprised, given what our guests are going through, not least the issues surrounding rough sleeping, that most sessions turn out to be peaceful and productive.
Alcohol dependency is an ongoing issue and to a lesser extent dependence on cannabis, as is mental ill health, typically anxiety and depression, which we factor in as we try to provide a safe environment and Christian hospitality to our guests. Two years ago, legal highs were a worrying problem; nowadays less so as no longer available to the same extent. This year we have had to deal with an unexpected amount of bad behavior, often between guests, and having done what we can to create a well ordered shelter based around “tough love” it is tempting to speculate what the reasons are. I have come to a view that some, maybe most, of the bad behavior we have been witnessing has been as a result of taking hard drugs, typically crack cocaine, even though there has been little evidence of drug taking on site because of the safeguards and policies in place.
It would be inappropriate to be too specific at this stage and when it comes to naming and shaming I do not foresee a situation in the near future when I would be doing this. But as I write I can think of a number who I suspect have recently taken or dealt with non prescribed drugs and this has affected their behavior at the shelters. Not only does it make them less pleasant and rational and more likely to engage in anti social behavior, it also makes them desperate for their next fix, having become hooked. For some, they pay for their drugs by becoming middle men acting on behalf of the ruthless gangs that supply drugs and the users and potential users whose habit funds this horrible part of the economy. There are others who are clean having come off drugs or occasional users and therein lies a danger of becoming further embroiled into drug taking. While there are services that do try to help a recovering drug addict, there are also gaps evidenced by the unmet needs. Whether Southend is better or worse than other places for illegal drug usage and the services to help those with addiction issues, is not something I have a definitive view, but as a lifelong Southender it is concerning there are so many drug dealing gangs and drug addicts in my town and many are aware of unchecked drug dealing in their locality. I may be wrong, but many of the drugs dealt are low quality and cheap.
As I sign off from what is stake in the ground article, I do so while picturing individuals affected. As I have got to know them, I have also learned to respect and understand them more and try to empathise with their situation. With some though, it is difficult to feel too much sympathy because they prey on the weak, with scant regard of the consequences, although such is the insidiousness of life as an addict deplorable behavior is often the norm. Others are becoming drawn into drugs, partly due to their homeless situation, and toward the disreputable people that supply drugs, and for all sorts of reasons, not least the sense of hopelessness that often surround those who are rough sleepers. It should be said users of illegal drugs come from all sectors of society and from many different circumstances. While I write to get it off my chest and make people aware what is being faced, I am mindful of my own golden rule as a homeless activist, which is to recognize and work to my limitations, yet this is not something I can easily ignore.