Everyone deserves a place to call home.

House at twilightThe main factor in homelessness is simply lack of access to housing. Other factors—like mental illness or substance abuse—make it worse but are not the primary cause. It’s important to recognize that homelessness is not, at its root, a failure of morally flawed and irresponsible individuals, but of a flawed and heartless economic system.

Asheville is not alone in its challenges. But we have an opportunity to be a leader nationally in mitigating the struggles of our unsheltered neighbors. We can encourage smart growth and revisit our zoning restrictions. We can help people get what they need most: a safe roof over their heads.

I recommend this overview from the New York Times newletter “The Morning.”

Contingency Management: A Better Approach to Substance Abuse?

We cannot police our way out of the mental health and substance abuse crises in our community. Criminalizing desperation and mental illness is costly: in human lives, in moral terms, and in actual dollars spent. Stigmatization and “tough love” aren’t the only or most effective ways to help people recover from substance abuse. Let’s follow the evidence, with compassion.

This article from the Washington Post presents an evidence-based approach to substance abuse called “contingency management.” In essence, it offers modest “rewards” — from public affirmations to small gifts of goods or money — to people in a program who maintain sobriety.

If your first response to this approach is outrage —”What?!? Pay people to stay off drugs?!?”— I implore you to read this article. It’s a cost-effective strategy (way cheaper than running them through the courts and jail) that is demonstrably better than other strategies, especially if paired with community reinforcement.

Addiction destroys connection. This approach can help restore connection — to a person’s sense of self-worth and to others.