Philly Feels Pain of Recovery House Cuts
The loss of welfare payments that helped people into sober housing forces poor addicts back onto the streets.
Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett dropped the social programming equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the addiction recovery community in Philadelphia earlier this month, when he eliminated the welfare funding that pays for the vast majority of recovery housing in the city. General Assistance—a small monthly welfare cash payment of $205 for temporarily disabled single adults with no dependents—has for decades provided some relief to Pennsylvania's poorest of the poor. Philadelphia’s recovery houses—sober living spaces for homeless addicts coming off the streets—have long used GA payments coupled with food stamps (now called SNAP) to provide room and board for people whose only alternatives are homeless shelters and abandoned buildings. As The Fix reported, Philly recovery houses aren’t exactly posh, and their strict enforcement of abstinence and heavy 12-step regimens might rankle with some. But they provide a crucial service of last resort to many desperate people who would otherwise be out on the street. Except that now they are out on the street. Because with the elimination of General Assistance, this vast network of roughly 400 sober houses just blinked out of existence.
Social workers, legal aid attorneys and city human service agency staff have been meeting frantically for months in anticipation of this day, pregaming the possible outcomes of a massive hemorrhage of unstable, newly-recovering addicts back onto the streets. Does this blow up the city’s homeless shelter system? Does it spike crime during an already violent and chaotic summer? Maybe that's why the Philly Police Department has begun sweeps through Kensington—the neighborhood with the city's highest concentration of IV drug users—arresting addicts en masse? It's hard not to wonder cynically if this transfer of poor addicts from recovery house cots to jail cell bunks is really something Corbett is doing by accident.
Killing GA was at least unproductive, if not inhumane. It saves very little money in the short term, and will have huge mid-term costs: once spat out of recovery housing, addicts in early recovery will utilize far more expensive resources like homeless shelters, emergency rooms, hospital beds, detox beds and psych units, as well as prisons. Right now the situation is in flux, and it's unclear just how bad the outcome will be. But Philly's addiction professionals, who now have nowhere to send their clients who are coming out of detox, fear the worst.