Many of Episcopal Charities programs provide shelter and food to those in need. Unfortunately, sometimes those in need are also struggling with addiction, and so learning how to understand addiction is vital for food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters.
Because of addiction’s connection to homelessness and food insecurity, Episcopal Charities gave two presentations of a workshop on Substance Abuse, Hunger, and Homelessness last week – one on Wednesday the 14th in Manhattan and the other on Saturday the 17th at St. Paul’s in Poughkeepsie. Representatives of over 30 programs attended.
The Reverend Edward Sunderland, Executive Director of Crossroads Community Services at St. Bart’s in Manhattan organized the presentation, and Dr. John Thompson MD, LMSW, CASAC of a leading Manhattan addiction center, Mr. Tommy Brown, associate director of Crossroads Community Services, and Mr. Christopher Patterson presented. Dr. Thompson gave a biological and historical overview of addiction, delving into addiction’s physical and psychological nature in order to help attendees understand addiction and approach addicts with empathy.
Dr. Thompson stressed that compassion is the most important tool for helpers, stating that we can “choose how we engage with” individuals struggling with substance abuse addiction. He also counseled patience, noting that, like other chronic diseases, addiction involves cycles of relapse and remission.
Mr. Tommy Brown gave advice on dealing with clients who are struggling with addiction. Several attendees also chimed in with advice of their own.
For example, when dealing with a client under the influence:
– be empathetic and compassionate
– recognize that you also owe other clients a safe and secure place if someone is being disruptive
– if clients are required to line up before receiving service, look for anyone behaving disruptively and approach; ask if they’re going to have any trouble sitting down and eating
– if allowed by health officials, on site feeding programs should prepare bagged meals so disruptive clients can eat off-site
– if asked for help, the best way to help someone struggling with addiction is to enter them into a rehab program and be an advocate if necessary
Most of all, know who you serve and form relationships with them. As Dr. Thompson noted, stable recovery often requires the individual become very good at managing stress quickly, and stress-management is helped by forming social and spiritual connections. Just by being a consistent, compassionate, non-judgmental presence, food pantry and shelter volunteers and staff can become part of that social connection and help recovery.
The presenters also spoke about how addiction can drive addicts to sever ties with friends and families and prioritize their addiction above relationships. This loss of relationships is part of what causes many struggling with addiction to rely on homeless shelters and food pantries. Conversely, stress is a major influencer on whether someone will engage in substance abuse, and homelessness and food insecurity are major risk factors. Service providers should keep in mind this two-way connection when providing care.
Both workshops were well-received, with attendees drawing connections to the work they do and the topic of the presentation. One attendee, representing a youth program, said that when she’d told the teenagers in her program the topic of the workshop, many spoke about their own experiences of being pressured to use drugs.
Episcopal Charities is grateful for the hard work and enthusiasm of the presenters, as well as for everyone who attended and participated and for St. Paul’s of Poughkeepsie for hosting.
A copy of Dr. Thompson’s presentation will be made available online, and a list of resources for helping those struggling with addiction is available here.