Three truths about addiction that show why transitional and supportive housing is essential for recovery.
In order to break the cycle of addiction, you have to feel safe and that your basic needs are met. Susannah’s House helps with food and clothing—and feeding and clothing children—but shelter is just as important, maybe even more so. One of the main reasons we see people relapse is a lack of support in their housing.
Tennessee’s transitional housing has actually declined, just as the opioid epidemic has been rising: From 2009 to 2016 our state has eliminated funding for transitional housing by 85 percent. The reason is the federal government’s emphasis on reducing a person’s time as homeless (which includes time in transitional housing) to less than 30 days.
Getting people into permanent housing is everyone’s end goal, but this time limit cripples people on a journey fighting addiction. And, since 53 percent of the homeless population suffer from substance abuse issues, it actually undermines the very issue it tries to solve.
Understanding why support housing is so important comes down to understanding three truths about addiction:
Addiction is a disease
Addiction hijacks the brain’s survival center. Basic needs like food and shelter become secondary to obtaining the substance that an addicted person’s body literally tells them they need to stay alive. It can take a year or more of sobriety for these cravings to subside, and relapses are common, just as they are for other chronic diseases with behavioral factors like diabetes and hypertension.
Environment plays a key role in relapse. Someone with diabetes would struggle working in a cupcake shop, and those with addiction struggle if they return to the people, places and work where they originally began using. Sober living environments help people with addiction recognize their triggers and combat urges.
Recovery takes time
A 30-day recovery program is only the first step in re-wiring the brain and creating new thought patterns. People with addiction don’t recover with a dose of medication or a single round of treatment.
A recent study on communal housing found that residents needed to remain in supportive sober housing at least 90 days to obtain the most benefit, and the average stay was closer to eight months. Nearly 68 percent of residents who did stay remained sober at six and 12 months, as opposed to just 11 percent who did not.
Addiction affects all areas of life
Addiction is the leading cause of homelessness and affects a person’s ability to hold down a job, foster social relationships, and maintain psychological well-being. Support housing founds success in all other areas of life because it provides more than just a place to live, but the people and programs necessary to continue recovery.
Multiple studies show that transitional housing leads to higher rates of employment, sometimes up to 86 percent. It also leads to lower arrest rates and psychiatric symptoms, which not only benefits people on the path to recovery, but also the communities in which they live.
As Susannah’s House continues to grow and support the women who come to us to build a better life, we hope to provide access to housing on our campus. Even the strongest, most determined women struggle to stay sober living out of their car or trapped in the environment where they became addicted. Our clients who are currently homeless will have a safe place to live while going through our program, and we hope can help them to stay sober for longer. Our vision is to raise the funds to build 16 units of supportive housing for the mothers and infants who desperately need this assistance.