April 17, 2021 – Lost his business, his home, the car he was living in, and landed on the streets of Los Angeles.  For about six years, home for him and his common-law husband was a lean-to near 7th and Hobart in Koreatown. And like a lot of L.A.’s sizable homeless population, Pleasants was addicted to methamphetamine, a cheap and abundantly available drug.  “It always felt to me like I’d fallen off a fire escape, and once you get on the ground, the ladder is 12 feet up in the air,” Pleasants told me. “I always thought, ‘If I could just get to that first step.’ But the first step is so far away.”  Not anymore.  Pleasants found the bottom rung of that ladder in November of 2019, when he went into a residential rehab program. He now lives in an apartment with his husband and has been drug-free for more than 500 days.  people on the streets — many of whom also struggle with mental illness — from the grips of drugs and alcohol.  We’ve heard endless policy discussions about shortages of housing and mental health services, but not nearly as much about the addiction epidemic. I don’t see how we’ll ever make a serious dent in the growing homeless population without a better way of freeing people on the streets — many of whom also struggle with mental illness — from the grips of drugs and alcohol.

What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, and what should we do differently? These are the questions I asked Pleasants and others.  “We haven’t treated substance abuse and access to mental health care the same way we would cardiac arrest,” said Sarah Dusseault, a board member with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency.  “If you scrape your knee,” Dusseault said, you’ve got your choice of multiple conveniently located urgent care centers, among other options. 

But addiction treatment is harder to come by — and difficult to access and pay for. Dusseault said that when someone finally tells an outreach worker he or she is ready for rehab, the chance is often lost because there is no bed available at that moment.


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