Survey: Substance Use Among The Homeless

May 29, 2015

The Ministry of National Security, through the Department for National Drug Control, has completed the first ever survey of substance use among homeless residents, Premier & Minister of National Security Michael Dunkley said in the House of Assembly today [May 29]

“The purpose of this survey was to obtain baseline data on the use of licit and illicit substances, health, and other characteristics related to homelessness. It was administered to a convenience sample of 165 homeless participants during the period of February 15th to March 14th, 2015,” the Premier said.

“A consistent socio-demographic profile of homeless adults has emerged from this survey; indicating that the homeless are predominantly black men between 46-65 years who have completed high school, being single or have never married, and have few or no dependent children.

“While there are some similarities, the reasons for people being homeless in Bermuda vary from person to person. There appears to be a large proportion of respondents in the current survey who were homeless because of family issues, yet a number of them were able to find temporary housing at the home or apartment of a friend or family member.

The Premier said that the majority of respondents [80.6%] did not have health insurance coverage; with HIP being the most frequent insurance provider for those with insurance, and 38.8% of homeless persons admitted to needing medical care; and of those who needed care, most of them got the care they needed [32.7% of all respondents].

Premier Dunkley said, “When it came to illegal substances, 37.0% of homeless persons reported current use of marijuana, with 12.7% and 11.5% who said they used crack and cocaine, respectively, in the past 30 days.

“However, the highest level of prevalence-of-use was evident for the two legal substances [cigarettes and alcohol], where 75.2% and 65.5% of the homeless persons reported that they currently use these substances.

“About three out of every 10 homeless persons [28.5%] drink every day of the week; with 4.6 being the average number of days that the participants consumed alcohol in a week.

“Although homeless, they spent, on average, $100 per month on alcohol and $50 on drugs, with most of their money obtained from begging or panhandling.

“The evidence suggests that a large number of homeless persons reported current use of tobacco [cigarettes], alcohol, and marijuana. Almost one-third indicated drug and alcohol problems in the past year, yet 77% of the respondents reported that they have never been treated for alcohol or drugs in their lifetime. This statistic is one that needs to be addressed.”

The Premier’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of National Security, through the Department for National Drug Control, has completed the first ever survey of substance use among homeless residents.

This study’s goal was to determine the prevalence and characteristics of drug use among homeless individuals in Bermuda.

As it is the first survey of this nature in Bermuda, the information obtained is intended to be used by the Department for National Drug Control, as well as other stakeholders and interest groups or individuals working with the homeless population, in an effort to develop an understanding of their needs and to improve existing substance abuse intervention and treatment programmes and to benchmark data related to this population in the event future studies are undertaken.

Mr. Speaker, the Survey of Substance Use among the Homeless Population represents the latest information on homeless drug consumption in Bermuda and serves several purposes. Foremost is the provision of accurate and reliable national-level data to support the monitoring of the drug situation in Bermuda. Specifically, the purpose of this survey was to obtain baseline data on the use of licit and illicit substances, health, and other characteristics related to homelessness. It was administered to a convenience sample of 165 homeless participants during the period of February 15th to March 14th, 2015.

Mr. Speaker, after reading the report, I can inform this Honourable House that a consistent socio-demographic profile of homeless adults has emerged from this survey; indicating that the homeless are predominantly black men between 46-65 years who have completed high school, being single or have never married, and have few or no dependent children.

Mr. Speaker, while there are some similarities, the reasons for people being homeless in Bermuda vary from person to person. There appears to be a large proportion of respondents in the current survey who were homeless because of family issues, yet a number of them were able to find temporary housing at the home or apartment of a friend or family member.

When it came to the physical and mental health of the participants, the majority of respondents felt their health was ‘Good’ at 46.6%, although a large proportion [30.9%] indicated having depression.
Mr. Speaker, as might be expected, the majority of respondents [80.6%] did not have health insurance coverage; with HIP being the most frequent insurance provider for those with insurance. Of particular interest, when asked about their medical needs, 38.8% of homeless persons admitted to needing medical care; and of those who needed care, most of them got the care they needed [32.7% of all respondents].

Mr. Speaker, it is often reported that substance abuse is both a cause and a result of homelessness, often arising after people lose their housing. According to research, two-thirds of homeless people, in general, report that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless. In some situations, however, substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations.

Mr. Speaker, when it came to illegal substances, 37.0% of homeless persons reported current use of marijuana, with 12.7% and 11.5% who said they used crack and cocaine, respectively, in the past 30 days. However, the highest level of prevalence-of-use was evident for the two legal substances [cigarettes and alcohol], where 75.2% and 65.5% of the homeless persons reported that they currently use these substances.

About three out of every 10 homeless persons [28.5%] drink every day of the week; with 4.6 being the average number of days that the participants consumed alcohol in a week. Although homeless, they spent, on average, $100 per month on alcohol and $50 on drugs, with most of their money obtained from begging or panhandling. It can also be inferred that their substance use is supported by getting alcohol and drugs from others at no cost.

Mr. Speaker, the evidence suggests that a large number of homeless persons reported current use of tobacco [cigarettes], alcohol, and marijuana. Almost one-third indicated drug and alcohol problems in the past year, yet 77% of the respondents reported that they have never been treated for alcohol or drugs in their lifetime. This statistic is one that needs to be addressed.

Mr. Speaker, since substance abuse is both viewed as a cause and a result of homelessness, these issues need to be addressed simultaneously. Treatment programmes in Bermuda require that a person’s mental health disorder[s] be stabilised before substance abuse treatment can commence. Through the Mental Health Court initiative there is some effort being made to have mental health services continue while persons are engaged in residential substance abuse treatment, with teams providing services to the clients concurrently.

Mr. Speaker, substance abuse treatment on its own is inadequate and needs to be combined with supported housing opportunities, followed by a long-term housing solution. In Bermuda, often persons who are homeless complete treatment and have no place to go and become a placement challenge; often times ending up at the shelter where they are re-exposed to substance use and relapse.

Mr. Speaker, if housing, treatment, and other social service agencies work together toward developing a comprehensive response to the problems of homeless substance users, the whole community will benefit.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

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The 40-page survey follows below [PDF here]:

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Comments (14)

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  1. ChaBoy says:

    WOW! $100 and $50? I spend that in Cairo in like an hour on a Fridee night!

    • Mockingjay says:

      The difference is you can afford it, there is a large amount of junkies and alcoholics in the elite circle too.
      Poor people cant afford to go to Betty Ford so they are at a disadvantage and are considered outcast, but take the wealth away from the elite and they will be outcast also !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Ridiculous says:

        Please refrain from using the term ‘junkies’ when referring to person with substance abuse issues as this is a very offensive term. Also treatment in Bermuda is free for the most part. There is help available for those who want it.

  2. Tough Love says:

    So someone found the homeless to ask them about substance use. Was this done to shame them? Sad that no help was offered.

    • Keepin' it Real!...4Real! says:

      but of course, they’re trying to eliminate the subsidies if they are receiving any… each homeless case needs individual investigations to establish the real reason, then you can re-evaluate the subs from there.

      an as far as the substance abuse goes…spend a week with a homeless person and live as they live…a beer or a spliff makes you feel like a regular person for a while, until you have to seek refuge for the onset, of a sunset. Its a lot easier to panhandle enough for a flask than it is to pay $2ooo for rent, $15oo for groceries, do i need to continue…i think not.

      ps.the second paragraph wasn’t directed at you @Tough Love…peace.

  3. Absolutely shocking that there is a substance-use problem among the homeless.

  4. just saying says:

    Outrage, outrage , outrage that the Premier can stand up and utter such nonsense….he and his cabinet need to know that the former Corporation of Hamilton were already working on this issue…what did Government do? Nothing. Hoping that the current Corporation resurrect the work done …rather than reinvent the wheel!
    So is the Premier saying that all homeless people are mentally ill and need to go through Mental Health Court? Is it a crime to be homeless? There are children and women displaced. There is no hope with this Government as they are SO far removed from the people….I was once in hope of change with this new group but they are beyond hope. Oh for a private audience with this man….he needs serious education…don’t know who prepared his script but they show such ignorance…. just so upset that the people who need the help are being misrepresented….call me!

    • jredmond says:

      I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not

    • Truth Teller says:

      Exactly ‘Just Saying”, I agree with you.

      Moreover, I am also surprised that the racist Bermuda Tea Party types who tend to dominate this forum are not raking the Premier over the coals for playing the so called “Race Card”. Did he have to mention in his statement that an overwhelming number of the homeless are black men.

      Who cares if the NDC placed it in the report. He should have just conveniently ignored that part. In fact, the Premier should instruct that
      demographics on race should not be compiled on this or any other issue that is examined by government, as all that does is divide us.

      Couldn’t he just have left that part out as sister Leah Scott would have done.

      Does the Premier and the OBA have to make everything about race!!!!!!

  5. Scotty says:

    Good work Premier. We all know that this is a problem in Bermuda but as I recollect you are the first sitting government to look at it. MAWI does a good job of monitoring the homeless and the reasons for being homeless, much of which is mental illness. Obviously alcohol and drugs are prevalent within the group. As we sit in the comfort of our homes we all think we have the cure for this problem but the reality is some people are not interested in living in a home. So glad you are highlighting the plight of, and the reasons for, homelessness. If we are aware of the causes, as a society, then we can devise individual solutions. Pleeeeeeeeease, stop shooting the messenger.

  6. Getaclue says:

    Firstly, the corporations homeless committed was started to get the homeless out of Hamilton not to help them. If you were a part of that committee you would know that. They consider the homeless a nuisance. Secondly, read the report and go do the research. There is a wide body of knowledge that shows a connection between homelessness, substance use and mental illness. So go get a clue before you comment on something you know nothing about. Not everything you read needs a comment, especially one so misguided.

  7. Huh says:

    It is really shocking to me that many people are shocked to find out that most of our homeless population suffer from the DISEASE of Addiction. If ONLY those with this disease was treated like those with other diseases like Diabetes, Cancer, Mental illlness etc..

  8. Terry says:

    Amazing.

  9. Keepin' it Real!...4Real! says:

    “It IS a crime to be POOR”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd5FzLQpxZs