(False) Assumptions About ‘The’ Problem Of Homelessness

By James Breckenridge. U, ME & ASS

Homelessness, addiction, mental healthcare and poverty are a complex, convoluted entanglement of interrelated issues. Like an onion there are multiple layers that need to be peeled away to get to the core.

“Assumption is the mother of the screw-up” – Angelo Donghia

The dominant barrier to making headway against homelessness, addiction, mental healthcare and poverty is the fact that the majority of people confuse their assumptions with knowledge, fact and reality.

Alfred Adler was a physician, psychotherapist, and the founder of Individual psychology and is often considered one of the most important figures in psychology history who stated:

“The human mind shows an urge to capture into fixed forms through unreal assumptions, that is, fictions, that which is chaotic, always in flux, and incomprehensible.”

“that which is chaotic, always in flux, and incomprehensible” is an accurate reflection of the reality one faces in tackling the muddle that is homelessness, addiction, mental healthcare and poverty.

People assume there is a solution when there isn’t; we can address the individual issues and challenges but there is no ‘solution’.

People assume the existence of one (or a few) ‘one size fits all’ approaches when the reality is that, while there are shared needs, each individuals journey to wellness is unique and your support system has to be flexible enough to deliver support reflecting an individual’s needs.

People assume that all that is needed is to go to treatment when the evidence is overwhelming that on its own our current system of treatment fails those who go to treatment. There is an interview available online where the interviewer is shocked when Dr. Gabor Mate speaks of 5% sober at the end of their first year as being excellent results – using our current approach.

People assume the current method is the approach we should be using. Our current system of treatment gets people sober and somewhat stable. The key to an individual’s success is what occurs after they leave treatment. The vast bulk of what an individual needs to do to achieve wellness remains to be done after they leave treatment and will require years of work. We know what community based supports and programs a person requires to achieve wellness; best practices elsewhere provide examples and guides as to how to dramatically increase a person’s probability of achieving wellness.

People assume dealing with addiction, mental health, poverty or those homeless is easy. I once had a chain smoker stand there puffing through cigarette after cigarette while explaining that all an addict needed to do was quit, never seeing the absurdity of the situation. Did you know that more people are addicted to nicotine after their first use than are addicted to heroin after first use?

People assume that people can be forced or motivated to find wellness. You can lock people up and deny them access to drugs [although drug smuggling and use in prison demonstrate the futility of trying to deal with medical issues outside of the medical system] but unless you plan to lock them up permanently…….. “please daddy, please dear if you loved me…” does not provide the will needed to slog along the path to wellness. The level of motivation needed to keep moving forward; even on the days the headwinds are pushing you backwards can only come from within, deep within, the individual.

“You can’t make assumptions when you’re dealing with health issues.”

Assumptions have mired us in the insanity of doing the same behaviour over and over as though somehow the results will be different next time.

The abundance of quotes available addressing the consequences of assumptions demonstrates the truth of Christopher Meloni’s observation “Too often, people find it easier to make assumptions and stick with what they believe … it makes their job easier. The good people constantly search for something different.”

If we want to stop letting homelessness, addiction, mental healthcare and poverty ‘drive the bus’ and to take control of the bus we need to set aside assumptions [and what we want to be true] and focus on the realities.

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance” – Orville Wright

Assume: to make an ass out of U and ME.

James Breckenridge HeadshotJames Breckenridge
James Breckenridge is a former chartered accountant and advocate for the homeless from Abbotsford BC. He has written extensively on the topic of homelessness in BC’s Bible Belt most recently in a feature called – Abbotsford’s Obsessive Compulsive Treatment Of The Homeless.

He can be reached at jmswbreckenridge@msn.com

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