Homeless Alcoholics Receive a Permanent Place to Live, and Drink

By 788.4 · Jul 6, 2006 · ·
  1. 788.4
    July 5, 2006

    Homeless Alcoholics Receive a Permanent Place to Live, and Drink

    SEATTLE, June 30 — Rodney Littlebear was a homeless drunk who for 15 years ran up the public tab with trips to jail, homeless shelters and emergency rooms.
    He now has a brand-new, government-financed apartment where he can drink as much as he wants. It is part of a first-in-the-nation experiment to ease the torment of drug and alcohol addiction while saving taxpayers' money.
    Last year, King County created a list of 200 "chronic public inebriates" in the Seattle region who had cost the most to round up and care for. Seventy-five were offered permanent homes in a new apartment building known by its address, 1811 Eastlake.
    Each had been a street drunk for several years and had failed at least six efforts at sobriety. In a controversial acknowledgment of their addiction, the residents — 70 men and 5 women — can drink in their rooms. They do not have to promise to drink less, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or go to church.
    "They woke me up in detox and told me they were going to move me in," said Mr. Littlebear, 37, who has had a series of strokes and uses a walker. "When I got here, I said, 'Oh boy, this don't look like no treatment center.' "
    These are the "unsympathetic homeless" who beg, drink, urinate and vomit in public — and they are probably the most difficult to get off the streets, said Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the nonprofit group that owns 1811 Eastlake.
    In 2003, the public spent $50,000, on average, for each of 40 homeless alcoholics found most often at the jail, the sobering center and the public Harborview Medical Center, said Amnon Shoenfeld, director of King County's division of mental health and chemical abuse.
    Mr. Hobson's group expected the annual cost for each new resident of 1811 Eastlake to be $13,000, or a total of $950,000. It cost $11.2 million to build and is paid for entirely by the City of Seattle and county, state and federal governments.
    The actual price tag will probably rise because residents have more serious health problems than expected, said Margaret King, a social worker who manages the building. Many have heart ailments, cirrhosis, diabetes, head injuries from falling on sidewalks and severe circulation problems. Four residents have already died, including one who moved in with late-stage liver cancer.
    The building's critics are particularly incensed that residents do not have to stay sober. The Seattle Times, in 2004, editorialized that government should insist that the residents quit drinking in order to live there.
    "Bunks for drunks — it's a living monument to failed social policy," said John Carlson, a conservative radio talk show host here. This approach, he said, is "aiding and abetting someone's self-destruction."
    Drink they do. When residents are shuttled to supermarkets for groceries, Ms. King said, they often buy wine or beer, which is sold in this state alongside the milk, eggs and orange juice.
    Like Mr. Littlebear, Howard Hunt, 41, moved in the first day. Homeless since 1999, Mr. Hunt said he drank a daily bottle of whiskey before he came to 1811 Eastlake. He has epilepsy and walks with crutches because he fractured his hip.
    He shrugged when asked about the policy allowing him to drink in his new home. "We're going to drink somewhere," Mr. Hunt said.
    Influential Bush administration officials have come to support this project, including the on-site drinking. John Meyers, director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's regional office here, said he blanched when he learned that his agency had pledged $2 million for it. He now calls 1811 Eastlake "a glorious experiment."
    "It's a lot cheaper having them spend the night at 1811 than at the E.R. or at the drunk tank," Mr. Meyers said.
    Philip F. Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, said there should be a similar building in every city in the country.
    These apartments fit into the "housing first" philosophy, newly adopted by many cities, intended to give permanent housing and intensive services to long-term homeless people. Local officials have already approved other buildings for the mentally ill and people with chronic medical conditions, said Adrienne Quinn, director of Seattle's Housing Office.
    Though it would be unthinkable for a market-rate apartment building in this booming city, 1811 Eastlake's front door is across the street from busy Interstate 5, on the edge of downtown. The Starbucks around the corner donates pastries, but Robb Anderson, 43, an owner of the trophy shop next door to the apartments, complained bitterly about paramedics' 120 visits in just six months.
    The building's atmosphere during a recent daytime visit was more convalescent home than rowdy dorm. A few men in the television room stared silently at a World Cup match, while others wearing backpacks trudged through the front door and into the communal kitchen for apple fritters and coffee.
    A third of the residents, including Mr. Littlebear, are American Indian; an estimated 20 percent are military veterans. The average age is 45. Most receive state or federal disability payments, and all residents pay 30 percent of their income as rent under HUD's guideline for low-income housing.
    By choice or if they need frequent medical attention, 26 residents live on the first floor in office-sized cubicles with a bed, desk, dresser and small refrigerator. These communal living areas have a strong scent of body odor.
    Upstairs, 49 people have private studio apartments with a single bed, bath and kitchen. For many, this normal existence is a huge adjustment. One man continues to sleep on the floor next to his bed, and another refused sheets in favor of his sleeping bag, Ms. King said.
    Their quality of life, drinking and use of public services are being studied by researchers at the University of Washington. Ms. King said the alcohol intake of the residents was shockingly high at first, but many residents say they now drink less, at least by their standards.
    "I cut down," Mr. Littlebear said. "I've got to save my liver."

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  1. Sitbcknchill
    hmmm.....hell why not give some drunks a place to stay and let them keep drinking away....

    a gun to the head execution style would be more fitting for them, cheaper anyway......
  2. The Doors
    I actually see this as good news. Alcoholics are addicts no matter how you look at it, here in Canada, there are a few centers for people with heroin addiction.

    And they're also partly doing this to clean up the streets. Every major city has it's fair share of homeless people, they're everywhere! This is a good move by the city of Seattle.

    Well it's cheaper and it's a better solution too. Why not have them drink in a safe place instead of in the streets ending up in the ER.
  3. IHrtHalucingens
    Well shit maybe SWIM will go out and become an addict, fail to "quit" 6 times, cause a ruckus all around his neighborhood, and hope that one day he will be given a free place to live with free furniture where he can continue to abuse his drugs until he dies.

    I see what they are trying to accomplish here but the address should be changed to 1811 Easy st. They come and go as they wish, high and drunk on whatever, eat apple fritters and coffee, while watching the world cup.

    I believe they should be using this building to help the homeless that really want to get help and get out of their situation. Give the ones who have the desire to make a better life for themselves but not the means to do so. help the people that want and deserve the help.
  4. Sitbcknchill
    Did you miss this sentence?
  5. Voices
    Why does the old saying "The road to Hell is paved with good intensions" keep ringing through my mind?

    This is too surreal to formulate a logical comment on.
  6. The Doors
    My bad, I misread that. I understand most of the people's point of view, but I think the positive outweights the negative. Nothing is perfect, but at least the city is giving a place for people to do what they do in a safe environment. What would you people suggest that they do?
  7. 788.4
    So far conventional methods for helping these people have failed. This project is being conducted for research purposes. They want to see if

    1) they can save tax payers money
    2) they can help the homeless alcoholics

    It is a study. If the results show that it is not helpful and/or economical it will be discontinued.

    The theory is that offering these people the housing is the best chance they have to recover. Research shows that the majority alcoholics recover on their own without outside help. It's probably easier to recover when you have a place to live. Life on the street can be hopeless, but when you have a place to live there is so hope.

    So far it appears to be helping....

    ... but we will have to wait for the final results.

    It's a little strange that people are argueing against a research program designed to help homless alcoholics.I also don't understand how this program "enables" the residents. They are obviously going to drink, whether or not they have housing. Life on the street is not really an incentive for people to recover, it is barrier.

    Are you guys also against safe injection sites, and needle exchange programs?
  8. Sitbcknchill
    If it ment giving them a home so they can shoot up then yes I am against it..

    At some point in time you need to help yourself, that means get up off of your lazy ass, sober up and get a fucking job like the rest of us, homeless or not....

    If the people want to help themselves fine.....

    "Hey I'm a homeless alcoholic and have no place to go, but now that the government has given me a place to stay now I'm just an alcoholic....."
  9. Alicia
    Agree with you sitbackchill on the housing thing.
    being homeless is not an excuse, with addiction yeah some people may end up that way because of there drinking.
    - Im still pretty aware of people who drink themselves silly ( well dangerous amounts, so be considered alcoholic ) and still work and function. some have the family issue, the odd aggressive angry family punch ups..lol

    I also think that the way alcohol effects people in terms with depression, on how they look at there life. the fact they only seem content when they have that drunk feeling that allows them to escape from there realities. oddly some like that lifestyle. - swim would rather steal, and stay in a hotel if she was that desperate then be on the streets. Alot of them end up dead from it anyway. so in a morbid way of looking at it, it cleans it self up in someways.

    Also alcohol withdrawal kills unlike with other 'illicit booboo's'
  10. 788.4
    Safe injection sites are just clean areas where people are allowed to prepare injections without the fear of getting arrested. The belief is that doing this will reduce the spread of hep C and AIDS as well as reduce other complications that can arise from IV injection.

    I don't think that laziness is what is keeping these people on the street. There is a feeling of hopelessness. The residents at the program have made at least 6 attempts to get sober. When your living on the streets and you have failed so many times before it is hard to even believe that you can make a change. The transition from mentally ill, alcohol dependent, homeless person, to getting a job, staying sober, and finding housing is difficult to make.

    I'm not trying to negate personal responsiblity, these people are responsible for the situation that are in. However that dosn't mean that as a civilized society we should just sit back and watch them.

    Most of these people have a background that you can not relate to (combat in Vietnam, growing up on an Indian reservation, ect...).

    Exactly.... now their main barrier to sobreity has been breached. I think what you are forgetting is that a lot of these people want to get sober.
  11. Sitbcknchill
    Yes I am well aware of what that is.....

    You will not help yourself unless you want to, giving someone a place to stay without even the slightest obligation to sober up or do shit for that matter is not going to help anything. Alot of them are just going to continue drinking away their life while the tab is put on taxpayers (not like it already wasn't anyway). My main point here is that in my opinion this is not a very effective treatment program. You can't expect an addict to stop doing what they are doing when you just sit back and let them do it. If they do not want to stop drinking then so be it they can go back to the street and die.....I'm sorry if I sound harsh but honestly I feel no remorse for people like that.

    Your right but you can't expect people to pick up the tab for people to continue drinking....

    This might piss a few people off but you know what, cry me a river then build a bridge and get the fuck over it. You cannot sit here and dwell on your past. There are many people who hold normal lives who are war vets, grew up in bad places, had a hard life starting out. Please do not throw that excuse into play....

    If you want to get sober you will get sober......

    If it was me and I wanted to sober up, the first thing I would do when they offered me a place to live would be to turn my life around and stop drinking and try and find a job and get back on my feet....

    I have battled many addictions in my life from alcohol,cocaine, heroin, methadone, methamphetamine and have hit rock bottom on every one of those addictions....and you know what, it just gave me that much more of an incentive to STOP.....So don't try to sit here and tell me that I do not know what an addiction is or have never lived on the streets and had to pull myself up from the ground because I have.....

    The only way to help yourself get over an addiction is to STOP using what your addicted to.....homeless or not.....
  12. 788.4
    If the results of this study show that providing housing to homeless alcholics helps them recover, would you support it? I'm just trying to say that this is valuable research and if the results are positive it should be continued, otherwise it should be shut down....

    It seems to me that you believe this is a waste of time because of your own personal experience with addiction. Your arguement essential boils down to the fact that because you were able to recover from your addictions without help, that others should be able to recover without help. A lot of help is completely useless but the results of providing things like food, bathroom facilities, and a place to sleep to a street addict has yet to be observed. Your opinion is based on anecdotal evidence whereas this study is looking for empirical data to measure the effectiveness of the program.
  13. Sitbcknchill
    And if this fails the city will have wasted 11.2 MILLION dollars not including the $950,000 a year (which is rising due to their health). That money could have went to better causes.... So for the sake of not wasting money on a bunch of fucking drunks I hope it does work honestly. If it doesn't I will be the first to stand up and say I told you so. If it does I will retract everything I ever said about it AND donate some cheese toward the organization....

    But yeah it's a hell of a 12 million dollar TEST they are doing. Hell if it does fail it's only you and I's money right? right.....

    I will expect you to follow this study close and bring in the results.....

    And I'm not saying its a waste of time because of my own addictions BUT I do know what its like to be an addict AND I do know what it's like to be homeless and both at the same time, do you? I do speak from experience unlike alot of people around here and while I'm not saying that everybody takes addiction the same way as I did, I am saying that the ONLY way to stop using a substance is to STOP using a substance....period....I'm saying it's a waste of time because when you let someone continue down a broken path you are not helping them in any way....well maybe helping them go further down the broken path.....You can't fight alcohol with alcohol or crack with crack or heroin with heroin....

    If it works I will fully support it.....as much as I hate alcohol...you bet your ass I will support it.....
  14. The Doors
    Well first off, congrats on being able to kick your habit.

    We can't change the fact that some people are just hopeless or really have no ambition in changing their lifestyle. Let's not forget that these people are still human beings even if they've got major issues in their life right now. Based on what you wrote, it sounds like we should just let those people rot on the streets and let them drink their misery away.

    By having these type of buildings, I think it also sends the message to people that there are people out there that want to help them. Yes, of course, at first people will use those facilities to their advantage of having a safe place to drink, but it may pursuave them into getting help after being showed what a normal lifestyle could be like.

    This type of initiative has also been taken to clear the streets of homeless drunks which have been a distraction in major cities for decades now.

    You may not agree with my reasoning, but I still think that as a society, it is the government's duty to offer servicies to the people it serves. Is the $11 million really an issue here? I doubt it.
  15. Sitbcknchill
    All I'm trying to say is that fighting alcohol with alcohol is not going to solve the underlying problem of the addiction itself.....I'm not trying to let people rot away on the street but I'm not also trying to fund them rotting away in a home when I'm struggling to have a roof over my head my damn self..... And yes 11 million dollars plus $950,000+ a year (and rising), is an issue....

    I really do hope that at least 30 people would recover out of the 75 that were taken in...will it happen I doubt it....Lucky if there is 1....
  16. Nagognog2
    Massachusetts used to have a social welfare program that included giving housing to hard-core alcoholics, as well as giving them enough money to drink a tub of gin every day of the week. With some dollars left over. One problem was that there was no way to really test to see if the applicant was so far gone that this was the only alternative to jail. As a result, some lazy parasites climbed on board - only to then become hard-core alcoholics. Such was their new, free living situation.

    One person I knew was a heavy drinker. He got into this program and ended up with a good amount of free money left over from his liquor. This he spent on crack-cocaine. He soon developed a convulsive disorder and would flap around on the floor like a fish on a dock - crack-pipe in one hand, and a whiskey bottle in the other. He died of heart failure soon after his lifestyle was paid for by the state.

    I don't quite know what to think of this. On one hand he might have lived to seek help for his problems if he didn't have this "free-ride". On the other, he might have chosen this even if he knew the outcome. I do know this: A lot of people will die from what Seattle is doing.

    I carry his obituary in my wallet to this day.
  17. Alicia
    On the other hand out of all of this, dont agree with it in someways. its gets them of the streets.. so then they cant judge me and do that drunken laugh, and make comments with there evil crazy ickee to touch clothes that become a new skin after a while. Maybe they should make a nature program on them.
  18. RJeez
    Statistics say that if it isn't them with the problem then it may be you.Just think yourself lucky,and accept that there will always be alcaholics,addicts,and whatever,instead of condemning or being sanctimonious."There but for the grace of God...."It takes allsorts.(By the way,this is a drugs forum,isn't it?)
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