Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness and Addiction
Homeless on the Streets
I TRY to imagine my life in their shoes… the homeless and addicted people of Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia. How would my life have turned out if I had a similar past of failure, hurt, wrong choices, continuing abuse or loss and no social safety net to fall back on? Would I have done things differently? Better, wiser? And could I have done that all on my own? Or would my life have turned out the same or perhaps even worse? I am sure that none of my homeless contacts dreamed as a kid of a future life addicted and homeless…
Since 2015 with a local team I have had the privilege — with the challenges — to reach out to these people. The homeless of UB are a neglected group, complete outsiders of society. Since they are young adults the general thought is that there is no longer hope for change so there is no reason to reach out or care. Regularly I am being told, ‘Go do something else, use your energy for some other good work, but not on these people’.
But my Sergelt Ood team thinks differently and feels called to reach out and acknowledge these people. Some of my local team members have come out of that life themselves, and some of their old buddies are still out there on the streets.
A Bus for the Homeless
Weekly we visit homeless people groups with our remodelled drop-in bus to build relationships and provide some basic needs such as first-aid and wound care, hot meals, washing facility, haircuts and second-hand clothing. We help with family mediation, getting access to healthcare and connect with alcohol rehabilitation centres. Over the past years, hundreds of people have been able to receive medical attention during visits with our drop-in bus and around 200 have made the step into an alcohol rehab centre.
We want to see changes and results through our relationship with the homeless, but even if these stay on the street, that relationship by itself can help someone to hold on in unchanging and painful living conditions and make them more bearable. If it was one of us out there lonely, having lost all hope and dignity, wouldn’t we want someone to notice us, dare to shake our hand, care for our wounds or give us a haircut, acknowledge our existence and pain and remind us of our value?
Homeless Half-way House
Right now, we are in the middle of a building program to set-up a reintegration project: a ‘halfway house’ to prepare homeless addicted graduates from alcohol rehabilitation centres for their reentry into society.
To rebuild a life back in society as a homeless person is incredibly hard and the support needed after alcohol rehabilitation is basically non-existent. Rehab centres are indispensable as a first step towards recovery, but in most cases they don’t offer guests sufficient preparation or opportunities for a life outside of the centre.
Too often we see people who return back to society after rehabilitation relapse heavily into their addiction, ending up back on the street again. Others linger on for years in a centre because they see no future for themselves outside of it. With our reintegration project, we aim to offer a temporal, alcohol-free, living community with rental accommodation, work placement and skills for starting up small businesses, along with regular training for personal growth.
Corrie van der Esch
on behalf of Sergelt Ood NGO