There is one episode, pictured above, where Monk goes to Mexico. The two detectives, when asked what led to the murder, answer, "Drugs...it was drugs...it's always the drugs."
"But the man drowned while sky diving," Monk puzzles.
"Trust me, Monk. It's the drugs."
Before I started interviewing homeless. I had the idea, and still feel many around me have the idea, that in many ways, that is the usually the answer for homelessness. "Why are they homeless?"
"It's the drugs."
Once I started interviewing people, I was surprised how often it was not drugs. Was drugs a significant issue? Yes. Was it the key issue for some. Yes (see story of Oswaldo). But the drugs we usually see as the problem...heroin, meth, cocaine etc... have rarely been the main issue with those I have spoken with.
Yet...it's still the drugs.
What do I mean? It really hit home when I met with Keith.
Keith and Tom in Denver
Keith came to Denver 8 years ago from Pennsylvania. (He has the red shirt). I met Keith and Tom sitting outside a Walmart in Lakewood, Colorado. (Tom's story here) We talked for a while and then Keith and I walked over to a local sub shop and got some food. His story was nothing out of the ordinary. He had worked some in construction in Pennsylvania but was between jobs when he met a girl online and rushed out to Denver to live with her. It lasted two weeks, and after that, he found himself on the streets. Eight years later, he is still there.
But what struck me most about Keith was the topic of conversation. When I approached, he asked, "got any cigs?" I, not surprisingly, did not.
As we walked towards the sandwich shop, he asked, "see any cigs?" hoping that I would notice any half smoked cigarette butts on the ground. Once we were walking out of the sandwich shop he said, "you know cigarettes are so much more expensive here then they are in Pennsylvania." We walked by someone else and he asked them, "you have a cig?" they did not. Then as we walked, he said, "do you have any money for me to get a cig?" A minute or two later, "I sure could use a cig." And then shortly after looking around he said, "It sure is hard to get a cig."
I would love to tell you this conversation was unique to Keith but it is very common among the homeless I speak with. Keith is not a druggy by most definitions. He is not hooked on meth or some other illegal drug. Yet almost 100% of his mental energy goes to an unfulfilled addiction.
I learned how he gets by, by living on the streets and food stamps. Meaning he gets very little actual income. The only cash he sees is from the very occasional odd job and from pan handling. This means that it is entirely possible that 100% of any money he sees, goes to cigarettes. I asked him if he ever looks for work. He looked at me as if the idea hadn't crossed his mind. I firmly believe that he is so in the thralls of this addiction that he rarely thinks about much else.
I felt awful for Keith. I feel awful for anyone trapped in addiction. I don't mean to diminish the negative impact from heroine, meth, cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, but I think if we were going to really peel back the true cost to society we would find that these hard drugs negative impacts pail in comparison to that of alcohol and tobacco. I think that you would find that while very few would say they became homeless because of alcohol or tobacco, it is almost universally part of the story.
If you follow this blog at all you will not be surprised to find that I hate homelessness but love the homeless. I do not have very many answers, but no answer that fails to recognize the debilitating nature of even what we see as "socially acceptable" and legal addictions will have the deep impacts that are needed.