Hope Station continues to provide the only real services to homeless people, and those needing emergency shelter, in Anderson County. That makes the private non-profit, run by Brandon Greene since 2015, invaluable to this community.
Hope Station is not, strictly speaking, a homeless shelter. Its core mission remains moving people who were formerly homeless to self-sufficiency.
As the agency expands transitional housing, its new tiny homes project, and other longer-term programs, however, it should maintain accessible and robust emergency shelter services, at least until another agency or program in Anderson County provides them.
In that regard, Hope Station's new policy, requiring drug tests for those seeking emergency assistance, is counter-productive.
Drug testing has become a fact of life in the United States, but emergency shelter differs markedly from employment and most assistance programs. The urgent nature of emergency shelter, requiring quick action and immediate attention, makes drug testing unnecessary and even risky.
Emergency shelter is just that – shelter for adults and children facing an imminent threat to their safety, welfare, or even life.
Drug tests, as part of a larger treatment and life plan, should wait until people are safe and stable. Anyone with an addiction must first deal with that before moving forward.
Hope Station already does an excellent job of using a crisis as an opportunity to move people into long-term help. If Hope Station can't help, it takes people to drug treatment or emergency shelter in Tyler, if they are willing.
Drug testing is part of Hope Station's effort to keep people accountable, Greene said. “Some people were abusing our services,” he said. “We had to tighten up a little.”
As a pre-condition for emergency services, however, drug tests are more likely to keep people from needed services than stop them from abusing them. The chains of addiction don't preclude the need for other emergency services. And people who don't use drugs can be disrespectful, unaccountable, and non-compliant, too.
Hope Station can use other accountability measures, such as imposing limits – one night in most cases – on emergency shelter.
No doubt, operating a small, free-standing building for emergency shelter would serve Anderson County better -- and at a lower cost. Motel vouchers cost Hope Station about $54 a night. The agency has spent more than $1,000 in a month on emergency shelter.
Drug testing just adds to those costs. That money would be better spent on programs that offer people a permanent solution to homelessness.