We’re all concerned about public suffering and want real solutions. In order to arrive at the right ones, we must first truly understand the problem.
Public suffering is the direct result of government failures. For decades, the government has underinvested in public systems. They have divested from particular communities. And they have eroded the social safety net. This has all led to the overlapping overdose and unhoused crises we see today. People suffering publicly are most directly impacted by these failures. Many of the people forced to live on the streets are also struggling with addiction, or using drugs to cope with the trauma of homelessness.
Solving public suffering requires addressing its structural and systemic roots. Yet elected officials default to blaming individuals. It’s politically easier for them to do that than create the systemic change that we desperately need. Failed approaches like criminalization helped cause current conditions. But the same officials try to tell us these failed approaches are solutions.
Effective solutions center support, not criminalization. They focus on health, provide a full continuum of care, and centralize community responses. Studies show public health responses reduce overdose deaths and other harms associated with drug use more effectively than incarceration. We need to increase street outreach and create community-led response teams. We need to offer more housing and humane shelter. And we need to open overdose prevention centers to bring drug use indoors and connect people to care.