NATIONALHOMELESS.ORG
Twitter Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook

Guest post: What are the implications of drug testing recipients of government benefits?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Criminalization, Poverty

We are happy to share today’s guest post from NCH member Laura Epstein who interned with us this past summer.  Laura is currently studying Government and Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College.

Recently, many states have introduced policies that would require drug tests for welfare recipients, as reported by the New York Times. States hope that these new policies will be more “fair” and will cut the budget. However, studies show that these policies are ineffective and hurt those who need the most help.

Though some argue that these programs are better because they restrict welfare only to those who want it enough to stop using drugs, this argument fails to take into account why those in poverty would use drugs in the first place. In the 2002 study, “Substance Use Among Welfare Recipients: Trends and Policy Responses” by Harold Pollack and others found that “adverse experiences, such as childhood trauma or experiences of violence, may lead some women both to seek welfare and to initiate or to increase their substance use.” Therefore, restricting welfare recipients harms more than just those who choose to use drugs; it hurts those who experience both poverty and prior abuse.

Pollack expressed his unchanging beliefs, as in a 2011 blog post he wrote, “[Alcohol and drug] disorders are important within specific populations – most crucially, welfare recipients facing child abuse or neglect issues.” Laura Schmidt, in the 1998 Alcohol Research Group study “Substance Abuse and the Course of Welfare Dependency,” had similar findings: “AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] recipients’ substance abuse problems appeared to have little effect on their future prospects for leaving welfare…. the strongest determinants of welfare dependency…correspond quite directly to…the economic hardships of single parents and their young children.” Quite simply, the argument that new welfare policies requiring drug tests just hurt those who choose to irresponsibly use drugs makes little sense.

Furthermore, the new welfare laws fail to provide means for people to have substance abuse treatment. In response to the New York Times article mentioned above, Director and President of the Legal Action Center New York wrote, “The vast majority of testing legislation also fails to allocate money for treatment, even though it is an extremely efficient use of taxpayer money.” Not surprisingly, in a 2000 study, “Sever Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders among Former Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries for Drug Addiction and Alcoholism, Dr. James Swartz and others found that “studies of former welfare recipients…have found that substance dependence and psychiatric illness are among the most notable barriers to gaining and maintaining employment.” Welfare reform that encompasses treatment and job training would be much more effective at improving the livelihood of those in poverty than removing all assistance from those with drug problems.

The “Housing First” method of ending homelessness also contributes to the arguments against drug testing welfare recipients. Under this method, those experiencing homelessness can begin to receive transitional housing and job training without first becoming sober. It is much easier for someone to become sober when in a hospitable environment as opposed to when living in the streets without much food or other needs. Requiring welfare recipients to first have a negative drug test is directly at odds with the successful method of Housing First. In a 2010 presentation to the Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference, Benjamin Henwood found that “Housing First providers were able to focus more on clinical concerns since consumers and already obtained permanent housing.” Housing First programs recognize that facilitating a person’s successful recovery and employment opportunities requires assistance to put the person’s life back on track. Housing First contributes to the argument that welfare services as a whole must meet people at their level of need, including potential substance abuse.

Luckily, some of the new welfare laws have been deemed unconstitutional. However, we cannot rely on the courts to ensure that these laws do not have effect. These new laws should not pass in the first place because they disproportionately hurt those in society who need the most help in finding employment to move out of needing welfare.

*Studies show that only 20-30% of the homeless population suffers from substance abuse.  It is often the case that people believe the majority of people who are on the streets suffer from substance abuse, but lack of affordable housing remains the number one cause of homelessness. Read more from Jaqueline Dowd, Poverty Lawyer, on how advocates are pushing to make drug-testing welfare recipients illegal.

Feeding vs. Foodsharing

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Food Insecurity, Poverty

The National Coalition for the Homeless differentiates between feeding the homeless – objectifying the hungry as simply needing to be fed – and food sharing. The sharing of one’s meal with another is to participate in the mutual fulfillment of the human need to feed both in body and soul. It is the difference between blindly providing resources and services to someone and breaking bread with them.

The religious connotations of breaking bread are profound: Moses told the Israelites to break unleavened bread with each other during the Passover, Jesus broke bread with his disciples both at the Last Supper and again following his death as their risen Lord. The ancient Greeks would invite random travelers homes for a meal, fearing offending them in case they were gods. Zen Buddhists practice a tea ceremony with guests as a way to achieve enlightenment together. Each of these examples provide cultural or religious guidance for going out of one’s way to satisfy the needs of another person, often at the lower end of a power dynamic. In the relationship between host and guest, breaking bread as a way of sharing an experience with someone is to achieving spiritual fulfillment or accompaniment, as expressed in Liberation Theology.

Liberation Theology developed as a Christian movement in Latin America against traditional forms of foreign aid and charity. Its central thesis was to return to the roots of what Jesus taught about the preferential option for the poor, believing that the poor must be the focus in every Christian endeavor. This focus is enacted through the concept of accompaniment, which argues that charity must be a shared experience. The giver must give in solidarity with the recipient, and the recipient must take an active role in their liberation from poverty. In a recent article in the journal Foreign Affairs, Prof. Paul Farmer, a noted Harvard University anthropologist and physician explains that accompaniment derives from the breaking of bread together or ad cum panis.  

We are reminded further of the practice and concept of accompaniment through the life of Saint Francis. During the event of his religious conversion, St. Francis de-clothed in the public square, denounced his father’s fortune and adopted a life of poverty. Later in life, after being relieved of his possessions during a roadside robbery, he responded by stripping off his shoes and cloak and offering the robber his last possessions. St. Francis’ life was a true example of sharing one’s possessions most fully, the epitome of accompaniment or breaking bread with the poor.

In recent years, the concept of charity and service has lost much of its focus on the individual being served and unfortunately has shifted its focus to giving credit to the provider. Food sharing allows us to rebalance our relationship with charity and accompaniment, allowing us to once again see those who receive our offerings as blessed and occupying a role that enables the giver to better themselves spiritually.

Realigning oneself with charity and services provides the giver a greater appreciation for themselves and those they serve. At the same time, it allows the receiver to be an active participant in their own liberation. This relationship between the server and served is described beautifully in the Jewish Tzedakah. The philosophy describes charity as a partnership between those who possess and whose in need – the relationship of host and guest, as two who break bread together.

As a homeless advocate, the relationship to services and charity – the ability to break bread as equals -has profound consequences to the way in which we do our work. Within the framework of accompaniment, homeless services must become about quality, love, and sacrifice, rather than quantity, efficiency, and image. We must unlearn the concept of “feeding the homeless,” and take on the mindset of sharing our food with those experiencing homelessness.

By Hunter Scott, Fall 2011 Intern

It’s in full swing: National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Hunger, Outreach, Poverty

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is finally upon us! From November 12th to the 20th, nonprofits, religious organizations, universities, high schools, and even grade schools across the continent are spending the night in cardboard cities in front of city hall, hosting hunger banquets, and organizing food drives to raise awareness about the problems of homelessness and food insecurity within their communities. These groups are reaching out to more than 50,000 people across almost all fifty states and Canada, advocating for those experiencing homelessness and hunger.

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness WeekToo often, we take for granted the festivities surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. It is just another excuse to watch football and eat as much as you can, while mingling with relatives you rarely see. For many who cook the meal, Thanksgiving can even be a stressful time. You have to watch the turkey, make the rest of the food, and entertain your family at the same time. Throughout all of the hoopla, we forget that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives. We are clothed, well-fed, and housed. Because of our circumstances, we can look past the problems of today and focus on long term goals like vacations and retirement. We are fortunate, yet during the Thanksgiving season, many of us forget just how fortunate we are.

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is about advocating for and raising awareness of people who are less fortunate than we are. During H&H week, people from across the country work together to ensure that everyone can celebrate Thanksgiving in their homes with their families and have some of the same blessings which many of us often take for granted. Whether it through giving supplies to our neighborhood food drive or by advocating for affordable housing in front of city hall, H&H week is about being so thankful for what we have that we want to share it with others. This week gives all of us, from Maine to California, a week to be in solidarity with those experiencing homelessness. By participating in activities in your area, you are raising awareness of those we often ignore while walking down the street. With more people aware of those experiencing homelessness, more work can be done to increase the number of affordable housing units, to work toward living wage requirements, and to make sure that no one goes hungry. Together, we can Bring America Home.

If you know of any events taking place in your community that are not listed on our website, please email us at handhweek@nationalhomeless.org or fill out the online form.

By Evan Thompson, NCH Fall 2011 Intern

Are you on Facebook? Have you voted for your favorite charity on the Chase Community Giving application?  You get 10 votes to help your favorite charity win up to $250,000.  Make your commitment to ending homelessness known by sharing one of your votes with the National Coalition for the Homeless!

NATIONALHOMELESS.ORG

National Coalition for the Homeless | 2201 P St NW, Washington, DC 20037 | (202) 462-4822 | info [at] nationalhomeless [dot] org
© 2014 National Coalition for the Homeless | Private Policy
Powered by Warp Theme Framework