There are 553,742 people estimated to be unhoused in the United States. While the pandemic has indeed contributed to an increase, one may also assume that decades of homelessness predominantly consist of runaways and the mentally impaired but this week, licensed Drug and Addiction rehab CEO Dave Marlon breaks down his mission and strategies to solve this problem.
Marlon, the CEO of the non-profit Vegas Stronger as well as Crossroads of Southern Nevada, tells Xander why he opened the most extensive rehab facility in the state. Vegas Stronger's mission is to combat homelessness by addressing what he believes to be the primary cause; substance abuse. "Homelessness is both caused by addiction, and to be homeless and to cope with it, it's a logical coping mechanism." says Marlon, "So it's both a cause and effect."
Fifteen years ago, Marlon opened his first addiction treatment center in Las Vegas, which started with ten beds and now consists of 400. Dave was motivated by a passion for breaking the cycle of addiction and homelessness with long-term recovery. "What I learned was that the people that were coming to me were sick, but they all were coming from a family or social dynamic that was also sick," says Marlon.
In reality, Marlon knew that people going to shelters or clinics would merely be treated temporarily before tossed back into a "broken dynamic" that leaves them with only three choices. "They could either get well and the family gets well, or they could get well; the family refuses, so they extricate from the family, or the third option is they get well, they reintegrate into the sick dynamic, and they end up relapsing."
Marlon, who began his own long-term recovery when, at one point, said, "I must be possessed," finally sought mental health help, which led him to realize his struggle with alcoholism. Marlon's appreciation for his treatment led him to acknowledge his privilege and that of others with proper insurance or the funds to afford Betty Ford-type assistance. He explains that the issue dates back over 30 years, with budget cuts leading to more mental illness and substance abuse on the streets combined with the increased marketing influence by "Big Pharma" directly to the public starting in the 90s. Marlon says, "The United States consumes 85% of the world's prescription opioids."
With his MBA and economics degrees, he put the pieces together to offer a more well-rounded program reaching more people through Vegas Stronger. Marlon says that programs already exist in funding streams. Still, it wasn't being funneled to the proper channels that typically affect poor, black, and brown people who tend to utilize Medicare more often but don't cover treatment or counseling. "I realized I could bolt-on psychiatry, counseling, med management, medications assistance treatment, case management."
His unique approaches in solving these systemic issues also involve PR and community assistance. He deploys intervention teams to businesses to intervene with unhoused people and says, "Now when someone shows up, they (businesses) all rally, 'Quick, get Vegas Stronger,' and we come."
Marlon is firm on his belief that merely supplying a home will not solve the issue without a plan for long-term recovery as the solution. "We do need more housing, and we don't have enough but the current strategy of, let's give them houses, and we'll figure it out later is a terrible strategy." Marlon, instead, continues his mission through experiences learned from his past advocacy with Nevada's Methamphetamine task force, which reduced labs and Sudafed from stores. He took advantage of Nevada's bi-annual legislative sessions to help introduce and create effective laws such as prohibiting insurance companies from sending out checks directly to recently recovering beneficiaries.
Ultimately Marlon hopes to take his rehab model to other cities in need. "I would like to see homelessness dramatically reduced," says Marlon, "What I want to do next is, I want to have meaningful social change, and it's actually going to happen."