I’ve been pleased to see an increase in local concern about homelessness, but confess to irritation about recent debate on begging. Commentators seem very reluctant to acknowledge that persistent street homelessness and begging is almost always linked to alcohol or drug addiction. A cynic might suggest this is because of widespread recreational drug use among the city’s middle classes.
Certainly destitute addicts haven’t been helped by the city’s affluent opinion-formers, many of whom have for years minimised the role of addictions in homelessness, preferring to call for decriminalisation and ‘shooting galleries’, so that addicts can inject in comfort.
Affluent substance abusers tend to keep their homes and avoid the criminal justice system. Poor addicts, in contrast, have to find money for their costly drugs of choice in any way they can – usually on the street, by theft, begging, exploitation, prostitution or drug dealing. Some get arrested.
This isn’t fair, but there’s nothing others can do about that. It isn’t a human right to be able to pursue life-limiting addiction and fellow citizens have no moral duty to help with the costs of supply. In fact, the opposite is the case.
Addicts aren’t helped by kindly souls who give them money when they say they are homeless and desperate. Such people are desperate, but regrettably not for food and shelter. Sometimes they already have access to both. Addiction has them in its grip.
Our responsibility is to ensure addicts have access to the things that can genuinely save their lives – treatment facilities, long term specialist supported housing and the constant guidance of people committed to aid their recovery.
(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus in February 2016)