Hollywood 4WRD Special Event – In the Eye of a Tragic Storm: The Intersection of Homelessness and Addiction in 2023

Hollywood 4WRD Special Event – In the Eye of a Tragic Storm: The Intersection of Homelessness and Addiction in 2023

H4WRD Blog
Glowing panelists and H4WRD board members at 6/13 Special Member Event

Hollywood 4WRD hosted a special event at the W Hotel in Hollywood last night, In the Eye of a Tragic Storm: The Intersection of Homelessness and Addiction in 2023. The event featured a moderated conversation with three leading experts taking a hard look at today’s meth and fentanyl crisis – and how this crisis intersects with, and impacts the equally challenging increase of homelessness. Like the iconic intersection of Sunset Blvd and Vine, this troubling intersection is very much in evidence in the heart of Hollywood.

Hollywood 4WRD's Executive Director Brittney Weissman began the event by welcoming attendees to what promised to be a challenging evening. “We’re thrilled to have assembled a great group of panelists tonight," Brittney said, "For an honest, public exchange about the devastation caused by substance use disorder, particularly on our unsheltered friends.“

H4WRD's Executive Director Brittney Weissman makes opening remarks

Brittney then brought up the host and moderator for the evening, Kerry Morrison. Kerry, the Executive Director of Heart Forward and a Founding Board Member of H4WRD, admitted that there are no easy solutions to the challenges facing our community, and that the audience might not be walking away with any at the evening's conclusion. But as she reminded the assembled, "Hollywood 4WRD is all about educating and activating our community. We hope this event will do a bit of both, and leave you inspired to do more to address the twin thorny issues of addiction and homelessness.”

The program began with Kerry introducing Nicole Farley, Emergency Room Coordinator for JWCH-Wesley Health Centers – Kaiser Sunset and Board Member of H4WRD. With the help of her "Security Advisor", Douglas Walker (from the Hollywood Food Coalition), Nicole had made a short, five minute documentary to kick off the evening's events. The powerful video featured Nicole interviewing people living on the streets in Hollywood about their experiences with drugs, particularly meth and fentanyl. The film resonated deeply with the audience who applauded loudly as the lights came back up in the W Hotel ballroom. (You can view the short film here on Hollywood 4WRD's YouTube channel.)

Now that the audience had been properly prepared for the evening's topic, keynote speaker journalist Sam Quinones shared his unvarnished observations about the state of meth and fentanyl addiction in the US today. Quinones is the author of The Least of Us: True Tales of America in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth (2021) and Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (2015), and has done extensive reporting on the increasing human toll caused by meth and fentanyl addiction in America. Mr. Quinones spoke bluntly about his dire assessment of the current state of our country’s war on drug addiction, and seemed well aware that his call for law enforcement to play a larger role in treatment would not sit well with everyone in attendance. Nonetheless, his message to the audience was incentivizing: if we don’t squarely face our country’s problem with addiction, it may lead to our downfall as a nation. 

Journalist/author Sam Quinones addresses H4WRD membership

Following Sam's talk, the discussion widened to include Nicole and Dr. Brian Hurley (Medical Director, LA County Dept of Public Health), for a look specifically at how the crisis of addiction has impacted people experiencing mental illness and homelessness in the Greater Hollywood community. Kerry moderated this part of the conversation, which produced several key takeaways, including:

  • Fentanyl is a “magnificent drug” from a trafficker’s standpoint but a nightmare from the user’s
  • Addiction to meth and fentanyl are contributing factors of homelessness and the massive supplies of these drugs have sustained homelessness
  • The presenting symptoms of opiate and meth addiction look very similar in the ER, but the treatment options (or lack thereof) are very different. As panelist Nicole Farley put it: “We can treat opiate use, but all we can provide for the meth addict is detox.”
  • There have been some hopeful innovations happening within jail settings where inmates in “recovery pods” are treated for their addictions and offered intentional recovery programs
6/13 Special Event panelists

The panelists offered a range of recommendations to counter these challenges, based on their respective experiences 'in the field':

  • Sam Quinones: Law enforcement can be part of the solution but it can’t be the only part. “Addiction requires a community to treat it.”
  • Dr. Brian Hurley: “We need to redesign our system of care around people, rather than around the system itself.” This means creating “lower thresholds for initiation” into treatment programs
  • Nicole Farley: More robust mental health and addiction services are needed desperately.

With Nicole's goal in mind, additional suggestions from the panelists included:

  • Antipsychotics can be as effective/lifesaving treatment for meth addiction
  • Improving the literacy and capability of providers treating addicts is crucial
  • Law enforcement would also benefit from increased literacy on these topics
Audience Q&A

Following the conversation, an engaging Q&A ensued, which included some spirited and respectful exchanges between the panelists and audience. The event, generously sponsored by Health Net and the W Hotel Hollywood and FREE for all H4WRD members, concluded with Mr. Quinones signing copies of his books for attendees who brought them to the event. As attendees filed out for the night, it’s a good bet that many of them left with his dire warning ringing in their ears:

“We all have this capacity for addiction. We all can be that addict eating from the trash,” said Quinones. “The least of us lies within us all.”

NOTE: Nicole's SHORT FILM and the AUDIO PODCAST of the evening (both seen above) are available as well on H4WRD's YouTube channel. Please feel free to share these resources widely with friends and community members who were not able to attend the event on 6/13.