Countering Flawed Policies to Curb Homelessness, Addiction and Mental Illness

“Five and a half years ago, this very day, I was homeless on the streets of San Francisco, struggling with heroin and fentanyl addiction. So, while as bad as that is, I’m also proof, living proof, that we do recover, that we can come all the way back,” said Tom Wolf, director of West Coast Initiatives for the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, during his Big Idea talk at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting.   

Wolf is working on solutions to the homelessness crisis, and he says drug addiction and homelessness go hand in hand.  

“In 2010, there were 400,000 homeless people in the United States. At the end of 2022, there were over 700,000 people homeless in the United States. In 2010, 17,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in this country. At the end of 2022 110,000 per year are now dying of drug overdose,” he said. “Why is this all happening? Well, it’s because of policy.”  

He cites policies that decriminalize drug use and provide an endless supply of funds and clean instruments to do so as factors that empower people to continue the cycle of addiction and homelessness.  

“Imagine if you’re homeless on the street living in a tent. You’re addicted to drugs. You have to use fentanyl every two hours. The police will never bother you,” Wolf said. “You get $600 a month in general relief or welfare from your city, $200 a month in food stamps, and somebody comes by every day and gives you foil and straws and pipes and needles to use your drugs, completely free. Why would you ever stop? There’s no incentive to stop.”  

Instead, Wolf believes the way out of these crises is by supporting trusted organizations that focus on mental health and stop the cycle of drug dependency. 

“Recovery is the way out. It’s not more drug use. It’s not decriminalization, it’s not drug legalization. It’s getting people off of drugs,” he said. 

For more information on this organization or others, please contact Program Director Esther Larson.

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