How Do Homeless People Afford Drugs?

A man panhandles with a sign on a public street.

Substance abuse is a major problem in society and has become one of the main contributing factors to homelessness around the world. Many regular people with nice jobs, homes, and families end up losing everything they have and living on the streets after they become addicted to drugs.

With the current opioid crisis in the United States and in other countries, It’s common for everyday people to start out with prescription medications or something that is legally prescribed to them for pain relief, and then to move on and start experimenting and becoming more involved with illegal street drugs and narcotics.

This will often turn into a downward spiral, and before they know it, they find themselves standing in line at the Salvation Army waiting for their daily lunch and sleeping in homeless shelters or on the streets at night.

But how do homeless people continue to afford the drugs they do each day when they can’t even afford to rent a room or to get themselves in a decent apartment? Well the truth is that people who have addictions can often be very resourceful, and as long as they have the will to get their hands on something, they will often find a way to do so.

As an ex-homeless person, I’ve known many people who fell victim to bad drug habits and who also continually found a way to get their fix each day, even when they had no income to speak of. So with that said, here’s four of the most common ways they make money to buy their drugs, and some even combine these methods in their daily hustle each day to fuel their drug addictions.

EBT Trades
EBT benefits are basically the cards that low-income people receive from the government to buy certain foods that they need to get by. Some people refer to these as “food stamps” because they came in the form of coupons in most states which somewhat resembled postage stamps. This was before the government began loading the funds onto PIN-protected debit cards, which is the more common system we have in place in most states nowadays.

These cards can’t normally be used as debit cards to withdraw cash, but drug abusers and criminals have figured out an easy way around this. While there’s many people who actually need EBT benefits to survive and buy food, others who simply use the cards to buy drugs will often allow someone else who has cash to use their card.

They will either just simply hand another person their card to use it, or they will ask the person what groceries or food they want and will then go buy the food with their EBT card. They will then trade the groceries or food for cash and this amount of money will often be half of what the actual food is worth.

For instance, let’s pretend that a drug addict named Joe has an EBT card with $100 on it. He might approach another person named Alex who needs to buy groceries and who has a family. He’ll ask Alex what groceries Alex wants and Joe will then go and buy the groceries that Alex needs at a local store.

He will then sell the $100 worth of groceries to Alex for $50 in cash. Although Joe took a $50 loss on his EBT fudns by doing this, he now has $50 in cash that he can spend on drugs and Alex has $100 worth of groceries, so they’re both satisfied with the arrangement.

This type of fraud is highly illegal but still happens in all 50 states just about every day and is common in many other countries as well.

Panhandling
It’s no secret that many homeless people make their money by panhandling, which is basically asking for money by standing out in public with a sign or otherwise approaching people and pleading with them for cash.

Many homeless people do this when they don’t actually need any money to buy food or survive, because it may already be currently provided to them by the local shelters or in the form of EBT funds that they can buy groceries with.

So when someone puts money into a homeless person’s change cup or hands them a few dollar bills, this often will go to the purchase of drugs and alcohol. Many panhandlers make over $50 per day, and that’s enough for some addicts to buy enough drugs to last a few days.

For others, they’ll burn through that money within a few hours if they have a high tolerance for the drugs or are consuming more expensive drugs. Unfortunately, when you give a homeless person help in the form of cash, you don’t always know what the money will be spent on.

While there are definitely people out there who may genuinely need the cash to try to get back on their feet or to get through a rough patch in their life, there’s even more out there who will spend the money on the wrong things.

This is why it’s always better to provide homeless people with actual food or things that can not be used to buy drugs with, such as gift certificates (assuming it’s only a few dollars worth and not enough for them to actually sell for cash).

Referrals
Another way many drug addicts with little income get drugs, even when they’re broke, is by referring other people who need drugs. What they’ll typically do is find someone who does have money and who needs drugs, and they will offer to go get the drugs for that person with their money.

They’ll sometimes rip the other person off and completely take their money or drugs, but other times they’ll simply “skim a little off the top”, meaning they’ll take a little bit of the drugs they do return to the person. The person who has the money won’t often care because a lot of times they simply don’t know anybody that can get them drugs and will view the homeless person as a resource or someone that’s helping them out.

Sometimes it’s simply expected amongst drug users that if someone is going to take time out to go get them drugs, they should allow that person to keep a small amount for themselves for their troubles and for taking the risk of traveling with illegal substances.

Often times, the homeless person or “mule” who goes to get the drugs will convince the person to just buy them an equal amount, so the person with the money ends up paying for two amounts while only receiving one of the amounts and giving the second one to the one who goes to get them their drugs.

Regular Jobs
Then there’s those who simply pay for their drug habits by working the same types of jobs that many other people in society work. Often times, if you’re not homeless, you might not even know which of your coworkers are homeless or who have drug addictions.

People who are homeless don’t always fit the stereotypical profile of being dirty, unshaven and looking like a mess. They will normally look like everyone else most of the time, because they still have access to showers and toiletries at shelters so they can keep their image clean and professional if needed.

Many of them are functional drug addicts, meaning they can still make it to work each day and keep up a regular working class image to where nobody knows they’re doing drugs or have substance abuse problems.

For those that can’t get regular 9 to 5 jobs to fuel their habits, they will sometimes donate plasma, collect cans, or do other odd jobs or gigs for money so they can keep partying as they continually try to avoid the inevitable “crash” that all junkies face when the drug high wears off.