Phoenix welcome the release today of the second part of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs, and its call for significant, ringfenced investment in treatment and recovery support[i].
The report is clear in its analysis of the current parlous state of commissioning and funding and the recommendations will lead to significant improvements in the life chances of those affected by drug use if they’re accepted by Government. We particularly welcome the recognition that a broad package of services need to be funded, including well-coordinated housing, employment and mental health support, all things that we at Phoenix strive to deliver for the people we work with.
Phoenix are firm in the belief that housing has a crucial role to play in the success of drug treatment. We’ve been delivering specialist housing for over forty years and during that time we’ve helped thousands of people to recover from drug and alcohol use, access training, get a job, enrol at college or university, and eventually move on to their own home. We’ve developed a unique housing pathway, suffused with the treatment expertise we’ve developed over half a century of delivering substance misuse services to individuals, their families, and their loved ones.
Our guiding ethos comes from our knowledge that relationships are key to developing and sustaining recovery capital. People accessing our housing services form part of a small, safe, and caring recovery community, benefiting from the support of their peers and a team of knowledgeable professionals, many of whom have lived experience of addiction. Structure is an important element of recovery and core to our model, and people starting out on their journey with us are supported to use their time productively, access a range of opportunities, and contribute to communities and wider society. Last time we counted, Phoenix service users had delivered over 29,000 hours of voluntary work to their local communities through Phoenix-run schemes in one year.
Having something meaningful to do, as today’s report acknowledges, massively improves treatment outcomes. We have strong well-established links with employers, colleges, and voluntary agencies across the country and we broker opportunities for our residents. We’re particularly proud of the work we do in this area, not least because of the barriers that people with a history of drug or alcohol dependency might face. Currently, 92% of people living in our abstinence-based housing services are regularly engaged in work or learning activities.
However, as today’s report acknowledges, more funding is vital to ensure equity of access to the kind of service Phoenix provide. Despite the best efforts of our voluntary sector colleagues, one-fifth of people entering treatment last year reported a housing problem. That figure belies the fact that most people with a housing problem will struggle even to make it to treatment. It has been estimated that almost two-thirds of people who sleep rough use drugs or alcohol problematically[ii]. Maintaining contact with addiction services while living on the streets is exceptionally difficult. People can only rebuild if they have a solid base and there just isn’t enough provision.
The power of stigma
In recent years we’ve attempted to increase the volume and scope of the services we deliver but have faced a range of barriers, including unavailability of funding, short-termism, ineffective joint working and, depressingly, stigma and discrimination. We have significant experience of working to combat stigma, through our campaigning work and at a local level, and we’ve unfortunately developed a sophisticated understanding of the damage it can do:
- It prevents substance misuse from being afforded the parity of other health-related problems and contributes to the current treatment postcode lottery
- It makes it acceptable to cut funding for substance misuse services year on year
- It prevents people from coming forward to access the help they need to get better
- It leads to thousands of needless drug-related deaths year on year
Every time (and there have been many) that we are prevented from opening a new housing service because of local opposition fueled by stigma multiple opportunities to rebuild lives are lost.
Addiction is treatable, but most people need support to fully recover, and access to stable housing is critical. Without this, as recognised today, it is unlikely that anybody will sustain the gains they’ve made in treatment. Around 25,000 of the people who started drug or alcohol treatment last year reported being in housing need. If they have nowhere to go, how can they even begin to recover? We desperately need a new approach and it is our sincere hope that the recommendations made in today’s review are wholeheartedly accepted by Government.
[i] Review of drugs part two: prevention, treatment, and recovery - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
[ii] Rough sleeping questionnaire: initial findings - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)