I’m often asked, “Is there a substance abuse problem here in Branson?” Sadly, the answer is yes. When Jesus Was Homeless started nine years ago, about one third of the people we met in extended stay motels had some sort of addiction. Today it’s much greater than that.

The huge increase is chiefly due to a sense of lost hope. Some of the people we serve have lived in motel rooms for years. To understand it, you must first understand the nature of poverty.

When you and I are experiencing stress, we may go see a movie or unwind over a good meal at a nice restaurant. But people living in poverty don’t have those options. Stress often leads to one looking for an escape and many times someone in poverty will turn to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. This can lead to addiction and often a destructive cycle begins from there.

The truth is trying to find an escape, is a symptom of a much bigger underlying problem. When people lose hope it’s painful. Just imagine what it feels like when you don’t know what you’re going to do from one day to the next – whether you’re going to eat, have a job, or even a place to stay. And when you live with that every single day, the pressure mounts and builds up. Counseling resources are very limited to those in poverty, due to a lack of insurance or transportation, so often turning to drugs or alcohol to escape the stress and strain of life is the only way to cope. Drugs or alcohol offer an immediate fix to address that pain, although it provides no lasting relief.

We’re especially seeing the same problem with opioid addiction here in the Ozarks, that’s plaguing the rest of the country. Heroin is cheap. Abusers can sometime buy it for a little as $5 to $10. Again, it goes back to seeking an escape.

That’s also true for many people with mental illness. Medications are expensive, and people in poverty often don’t get their prescriptions refilled. They turn to alcohol and drugs as they are cheaper and many times easier to access.

So the problem is here, it’s real, and it’s very serious.

I wish I could tell you there was one proven system for recovery, but there isn’t. It’s not one size fits all; it’s highly individualistic. A program that works well for one person may not do anything for another.

Recovery takes a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of hand holding, and you can’t do it without the involvement of Christ’s transformative love. Substance abuse is often caused by a lack of hope or as a result of emotional pain.

If we can connect people to employment training and jobs and get them moving up the economic ladder, that gets them stable. Then you can let God begin to work in their lives and bring them the hope that they so desperately need.

If we’re going to beat substance abuse, we’ve got to attack it on the front end. That means meeting people where they are at, to provide next steps and taking measures for prevention.

At Jesus Was Homeless, we offer a holistic approach to people who want to turn their lives around. By walking alongside them as they address their relational, physical and spiritual needs we try to help them prevent substance abuse. Our weekly meal delivery offers an opportunity for a relationship to be developed while our Jobs for Life program offers a way out of their economic pain. And our church for people who don’t like church offers them a way to connect to the very One who created them and to restore them to be His masterpiece.