The lack of treatment centers for people with addictions will continue to frustrate South Dakota for the foreseeable future. People who are not addicted don’t understand people who are. Can’t addicts just stop it and move on? Use your will power. Just do it.
Stop drinking. Stop taking meth. Stop gambling or whatever. Your problems will be over and all will be well. In fact, in the winter in South Dakota, alcoholism can and often is a death sentence. We don’t remember their names, the people who wander off in the night to find shelter under a bridge and never wake up. It’s their own fault. Nobody made them drink.
In fact, providing shelter for such unfortunates is enabling behaviors like addiction if those behaviors are allowed in shelters, so our principal and most prepared shelters won’t accept addicts. If you’ve been drinking, there’s no room at the Inn. If you’re an active meth user, you’re out on the street.
I wonder how long a human being can last on the street at 10 below zero before hypothermia, exacerbated by alcohol and drugs, takes your life? It’s hard to say. The victims are dead and dead people tell no tales. Forensics can piece things together but cold slows deterioration so we can only guess at a range.
If only addicts had someplace to go. Poor houses finally closed up shop in England in the mid-1980s. Whole families were effectively sentenced to a kind of prison because of their poverty. They weren’t allowed to use community gardens, or drink, or do drugs, or find real work, but they were relatively safe in big dorm-style facilities with simple steel cots, 24 inches apart, a couple of wool blankets and a pillow, and shared bathrooms.
Our approach has been to help the afflicted as long as the affliction fits our definition of properly afflicted. If you fit into our neat categories of poverty and sobriety and so forth, you’re in. We feed you, give you a bunk, let you spend your day at the library because the library is warm, then you come back at night and hope there’s room.
Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, writes “The U.S. is rich, but its wealth is not inclusive.” “Its social contract is weaker than in other countries—those in need have less access to social services, healthcare, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness and addiction. The ‘American dream’ is increasingly out of reach, as social mobility declines and fewer children face a better future than their parents.”
Of course, Chief Jegeris is right; providing shelter for the inebriated does lead to problems including more drinking and more problems. Of course, those who are providing pop-up shelters to save lives are right; not providing shelter results in fatalities.
All of this just reinforces the sad state of our infrastructure and will as a society to address mental health problems, including and especially addiction. The Police Chief issued a cry for help, though he may not call it that. The citizen shelter committee is banging a gong for help, and they would call it that.
Addicts are addicted. It’s not a matter of will. Stacking charges on non-violent offenders (a common practice among states’ attorneys), and a host of other approaches have not worked in the slightest.
So, prison is probably the answer. One man is still in prison 20 years after being caught with an ounce of marijuana, less than a gram of meth, and some mushrooms. He’s warm and safe, and so are we.