Help difficult to find for homeless addicts

Published by the Lebanon Express, August 20 2009

Not all people who are homeless suffer from addiction or mental illness, but those who do have added complications in ending their homelessness.

Often, the addiction or mental health issues prevent them from holding a job or being a desirable tenant.

When the Linn County Steering Committee on Homelessness worked on its 10-year plan, it identified a need for a detoxification facility in Linn County, or at least, in the Linn-Benton-Lincoln region.

“We don’t have any in the LBL region,” said Joann Zimmer, a member of the steering committee. “We have a lot of folks that could definitely use medical detox facilities.”

A group of alcohol and drug professionals in Benton County have started working toward setting up such a facility, she said.

“All three counties view it as an important part of the plan,” she said. “We just have to figure out the logistics of it.”

The entire state — and nation — has limited medical detox facilities, said Frank Moore, mental health director and public health administrator for Linn County Department of Health Services.

The addict lifestyle

To ensure that the person needing help really wants it, all detox centers require the person in need of help to make the call themselves.

Some homeless people do not want help with addiction.

“A lot of them that I’ve spoken to personally, a lot of them have drug and alcohol issues,” Lebanon Police Chief Mike Healy said. “A lot of it is personal choice.”

Many shelters require sobriety, either in an attempt to change lifestyles or because the facility houses families with children.

Christwalk, a Lebanon organization to help people get back on their feet, has two transitional homes in town. Both are drug- and alcohol-free environments.

“Once they start drinking again, they have to leave,” women’s program director Annie Daniels said. “I give them 30 days. If they can clean up, they can come back.”

One difference between Christwalk homes and a traditional shelter is the drug- and alcohol-free requirement.

“We help them get off this trash, whatever is keeping them from being a helpful citizen,” said Randy Tunnissen, men’s program director. “A shelter, they’ll feed you, house you, but what has the person gained, what has the community gained.”

Drug and vagrancy issues affect the community, Tunnissen said, and “it’s going to take the community to deal with it.”

“They’d be a detriment to society and now they’re giving back, paying taxes, volunteering,” he continued. “This is good work; these are not the scum of the earth. They’ve made mistakes, but we’ve all made mistakes.”

Help at low cost

Teen Challenge offers a 12-month inpatient detoxification program in Shedd.

Teen Challenge is not just for teens, and helps both men and women.

Whatever a person cannot afford to pay for treatment at Teen Challenge is raised from other sources, said Teen Challenge manager John Jefferies.

“If they don’t have the money, they can stay,” Jefferies said. “We have to raise the funds for them through donations and work projects.”

After the 12-month detox, Teen Challenge offers more life assistance through their college program.

“The first year is called life skills training, because a lot of our students have not lived successfully clean and sober,” Jefferies said. “So they’re learning how to budget money and how to live.”

Many of the students at Teen Challenge have been homeless, Jefferies said, and would be homeless if they didn’t live there.

Jefferies said Teen Challenge is looking at starting a six-month outpatient service.

“That way if they have a family and job, and are trying to maintain in the community, then we want to provide that,” he said.

The program would be a non-medical, non-therapeutic model, to which addicts could come in the evenings for help.

“Some people are functioning addicts,” he said. “They are maintaining some presence in the community, but the drugs and alcohol are getting in the way.”

The center’s outpatient program is not ready yet, but Jefferies said “we’re training our facilitators” to make it happen.

Outpatient services

Other local facilities offer treatment at different levels of cost and intensity.

Emergence in Albany offers outpatient and intensive outpatient programs.

Outpatient programs typically include individual or group counseling, with clients engaging in therapy sessions once or twice a week, according to Suzanne Zerger, “Substance Abuse Treatment: What Works for Homeless People?”

Intensive outpatient programs fall between outpatient and inpatient programs, according to Zerger.

Emergence staff will put people on wait lists to residential care centers when needed.

Emergence is a private nonprofit organization that accepts health insurance, including the Oregon Health Plan.

“Thank god for the Oregon Health Plan, otherwise they (people battling addiction) wouldn’t get treatment,” said Program Director David Hickerson. “Oregon Health Plan is one of the few services that will pay for treatment.”

He said there is a significant substance abuse problem in Lebanon and has been for years.

“Addiction hits every level of society,” Hickerson said.

He added the economy has impacted substance abuse.

“When you’re unemployed and stressed about finances, you’re going to drink or use to cope, if that’s the way you normally cope with that stuff,” Hickerson said.

However, he does not see many homeless come to the treatment center.

“Homeless people don’t have resources,” Hickerson said. “They don’t get access to treatment. It’s difficult for them to access treatment.”

State funding for serving homeless people with addiction has been cut, Hickerson said.

“There’s plenty of homeless, and plenty that are addicted to substances, and plenty that have mental health problems,” but, Hickerson said, not enough resources.

Moore said many homeless would be eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, but because of their transient nature, it is difficult to get them to stay in one place long enough to compile the necessary paperwork, including Social Security number, ID and birth certificate.

Inpatient treatment

Serenity Lane in Eugene provides medical detoxification and rehabilitation, but it does not come cheap.

“If you don’t have any money or a job, it’s not likely you can find a way to our doors, unless you have a sponsor or some family member who can pay for your treatment,” said Mary Daniels, marketing director at Serenity Lane.

Serenity Lane is not a government-supported program. Health insurance is accepted for treatment.

New Hope, a new program offered through Serenity Lane, accepts the Oregon Health Plan, which will pay for two or three days of detoxification, “until you are clear of whatever chemical you are in there for,” followed by a 10-week intensive outpatient program, Daniels said.

OUR COMMENT – Teen Challenge is a religious program. Their form of treatment for addiction, which is a medical disorder, comprises largely of bible study. There’s no evidence this procedure is effective. Forgoing evidence-based treatment for bible-study is a national problem with rural addiction and mental healthcare and presents a significant diversion and barrier to those prospective patients.