One of the issues I struggle with when talking about homelessness is the blanket thinking about the homeless.
That’s like saying “What are we going to do about “the people”.
There are so many different kinds of people in the homeless community.
- Some have mental health issues
- Some have drug issues (which really needs to be broken down by drug type)
- Some are alcoholics
- Some don’t have any mental health or addiction issues at all
- Young people
- Old people
- Various races
- Chronically homeless
- Newly homeless
It goes on and on.
That’s why “the system” of homeless services breaks down at some point. Systems are very rigid and are one size fits all. So when you don’t check all the right boxes of the kind of person the system caters to then the system spits you back out onto the street.
My belief is that ALL humans deserve some sort of shelter. Being a drug addict shouldn’t make you exempt from having some place to sleep. Akron native Jeffrey Dahmer got 3 hots and a cot and HE ATE PEOPLE!
So, I wanted to try my hand at sheltering people with active drug addictions.
I started letting them into one of our houses because I no longer have a place to put people in tents.
Do you know the phrase, “trap house?” I hadn’t ever heard of it before doing this work. But I know EXACTLY what it means now.
A trap house can be many things.
For example, I’ve seen a drug dealer go into a house and offer the owner of the house some drugs in exchange for getting to stay at the house. Eventually, the owner of the house gets in debt to the drug dealer. Then the dealer takes over the house. He moves all his friends into the house and the actual owner of the house becomes “trapped” in his own house.
I’ve seen a person who lives in the suburbs rent the kitchen of a house in the inner city to cook meth. The other residents of the house get trapped in the house because they are now stuck in a place that’s cooking meth (and they can’t use the kitchen, which is its own kind of annoying).
But mostly I see houses where people use drugs. Drug dealers show up. And drugs move in and out of the house. There are used needles everywhere.
A trap house is hell on earth.
The mayor has publicly said “living in tents is simply beneath human dignity“. He should spend some time in a trap house. He’s got them all over his city.
It is very common for people to move into a tent because they are sick and tired of the bullshit that goes on in the trap house they currently live in.
And they are everywhere.
We have a huge drug issue in Akron. And it’s all being run out of these trap houses. A lot goes on behind the walls of the houses of Akron that “proper” society can’t imagine.
Trap houses are dark, evil places.
Severe drug addicts become zombies. Nothing matters. Lying, cheating, stealing, violence. It all makes sense when you are in a deep, dark addiction.
Lying is the worst of it.
Lying makes up look like down. It makes even a sober mind question the essence of reality. Where does the truth stop and the lies begin? Does truth even exist anymore? It’s dizzying.
Without 24 hour surveillance and a highly secured building where only the residents can get in and out, a place where active drug users are allowed to live will turn into a trap house.
This is the food chain of homeless shelter options from bad to good.
- Trap house
- Tent in the woods
- Tent in a sober village with security
- Tiny house in a secured village
- Sober group transitional house
- A house or apartment of their own.
A tent is not the lowest point of shelter. A trap house is. (I didn’t include a homeless shelter in here just because you can plug it in at any point in the continuum. It’s always an option for some people. And it’s not an option at all for other people. Some people can’t or won’t use a shelter for many reasons.)
I have an A B C concept of transitional sheltering for homeless people.
“C” is living in the woods in a tent. You aren’t ready to engage in a community. You are still using drugs and not getting help for your mental health issues. But you are also tired of living in a trap house. A shelter won’t take an active drug user or drinker. That’s why you need tents in the woods.
“B” is living in a tent or tiny home community. This should be a drug free / alcohol free community where people are required to contribute to the community a certain amount of time each day. You also need to be working on your housing, mental health and addiction issues. You can drink and use drugs. But you can’t drink or use drugs in the community. You also have to be sober while you’re in the community.
“A” is a sober transitional house where you pay rent either with cash or working in the house or a neighboring homeless community. You are highly engaged in your mental health treatment and addiction treatment. And you are working on a realistic housing strategy. Any kind of drug or alcohol use in the house will immediately get you kicked out of the house and you’ll be moved back to the B Level.
A person can move through A B and C levels over and over again as they work on their homeless recovery. You need all 3 aspects for the program to work. I’m telling you: You need tents and a homeless village to help people transition out of homelessness.
Homelessness is a condition. It is not simply the lack of 4 walls and a door.
But a trap house is not part of the homeless recovery program. You are never more homeless than when you are living in a trap house.
I simply do not believe you can take a regular house and make it a shelter for active drug users. It will become a trap house every single time.
So yeah. I ended up with my very own trap house.
A lot of landlords are proud owners of trap houses all over Akron. 50% of our housing stock in Akron is rental property. Of course wealthy landlords are running trap houses. It just happens.
Fortunately for me, I know a lot of homeless people that don’t want to live in a trap house. They want to live in a house that is safe and nice.
We kicked out every single person living in this drug house I created out of good intentions. We are cleaning it and painting it from top to bottom.
No one will be able to live in any of our houses that aren’t actively working on addiction recovery in a certified program and also working on their mental health issues with a mental health professional.
Gary Mikes, who is an incredible example of what a person can become in their life, told me from the beginning that I should not let drug users in any of our houses. But I’m a slow learner. I learn best by failing.
Now I know. I’m not going to be running “wet houses” any more. You just can’t do it in a regular house.
I still have a strong desire to shelter ALL homeless people. But right now I’m doing it in the woods. And I’ll send them to one of the many trap houses in our community if they haven’t gotten sick of that lifestyle yet.