Addicts and Disasters

This goes beyond the standard issue with shelters and the homeless.

by Eric Holdeman / April 10, 2019

I had a big a-ha moment yesterday while speaking to someone about future issues we could see in urban environments. The subject area was interactions with homeless in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. For many years, emergency managers have noted and had to deal with the integration of homeless people into shelter populations of ordinary people who have been displaced from their homes.

This is not a new issue. I recall being at a conference session on the topic of disaster shelters, and the speaker relayed an experience of having a homeless person detained for mental health issues and then a judge was petitioned to have this person involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment center. As I recall it, this was not a simple issue to deal with and required an extraordinary effort to achieve a healthy and safe shelter for the rest of the people housed there.

None of the above is new, but here is the kicker that "kicked me" yesterday. The person who I spoke to talked about helping friends get off of heroin. He shared that these people can become raging lunatics who will do anything to get a fix. Transpose that to a disaster situation where the drug supply is having the same level of supply chain disruptions that come with a major disaster. As one homeless person recently shared on a TV show, "I don't know anyone who is homeless who is not an addict of some sort." Thus you can hundreds or even thousands of addicts who are drug dependent and without drugs. 

Studies have repeatedly shown that while crime does not typically go up following a disaster, I think we may be evolving to a new normal in some major urban areas with a concentration of homeless people who are addicts. This could become a major law enforcement issue in the aftermath of a disaster that we have not had to deal with in previous events. 

Forewarned is forearmed.