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Harm Reduction for the Homelessness Sector

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Key Messages:

  • Not all substance use is harmful. Some substances meet important needs such as coping with emotional, physical and mental health issues (Tatarsky, 2003).
  • Substance use and homelessness are closely connected. Substance use may occur before a person experiences homelessness or develop as a response to a lack of housing (McVicar, 2015).
  • People who use substances are capable of making healthy choices for themselves. People with drug problems can participate meaningfully in treatment (Denning, 2000).
  • When people are housed, they are better able to manage their substance use (Goering et al., 2014).
Lesson 1 of 8
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Substance Use and Homelessness

The risks associated with substance use are increased for people living in poverty and people who are experiencing homelessness. Substance use and homelessness often occur together, though one does not cause the other. Factors such as poverty, racism, and structural oppression may lead people to substance use. These and other factors may also result in a person experiencing homelessness. This lesson explores the diverse experiences of people who use substances. Common perceptions of substance use and homelessness can have negative impacts on strategies to end homelessness. 

Lesson objectives:

After completing this training, participants should be able to:

  • Explore the experiences and conditions of people experiencing homelessness and substance use issues
  • Consider how perceptions of homelessness and substance use influence the way we respond 
  • Describe challenges and barriers to transitioning out of homelessness for people who use substances