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Are Addiction and Homelessness the Diseases or the Symptoms of Something Bigger?

photoHistorically, where alcoholism and drug addiction are intertwined with homelessness, Sarasota has been quick to criminalize those who have been seized by the epidemic, and many continue to judge their condition as a moral failing. Regardless of what any experts may have to say, there are those who feel that people that sleep fitfully on the ground, are constantly hounded by police and arrested, have little hope of finding employment, and have succumbed to the addictions which feed the American economy need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and change their lifestyles before they are entitled to any help from the community. Although alcoholism and drug addiction are dragons which even the most wealthy often find impossible to slay, somehow, when the poorest among us are seized by these enemies of the human spirit, after their esteem is stripped from them, when they are made to feel like garbage, when they struggle daily for their basic human needs of food, water, and shelter, they are expected to find the strength to believe in themselves and overcome the only substances that give them any relief from the pain they endure every day.

There is merit to the concept of tough love, but this “holier-than-thou” attitude of rationalizing the dispensation of compassion only to those who achieve some nebulous state of moral purity seems more like an insidious game of carrot and stick. Although there may be some semblance of good intention behind calling people to a life of sobriety, in a culture where alcohol is praised during most every commercial break and drugs are prescribed just to allow people to cope with living in “normal” society, asking people to rise above the fray of addiction as they are being trampled by it is nothing short of sadistic. If we take an honest look at our society and the unhealthy way we treat ourselves and others, it is apparent that we haven’t gotten it all figured out, and should we have the sort of moral compass we expect from those that have fallen through the cracks of our imperfect system, we will compensate for our failings by ensuring that at least the basic needs of shelter, food, and water are met for all of our citizens.

Once we get in touch with our humanity and decide that it is not morally acceptable to allow people to suffer unduly without trying to help, then perhaps the “least of these” will have some desire to engage with society again and find their way out of the cloud of apathy which enshrouds them. For homelessness is truly not the disease which plagues us, but merely a symptom of our separation from one another.

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