« | Home | »

The “Wet House” Concept: Bunks For Drunks? Or Harm Reduction?

Topics: Health & Wellness | 5 CommentsBy admin | February 18, 2011

How would you feel about your tax dollars paying for housing for drunks where they’re allowed to drink all they want?

Who knows. Maybe a “wet house” is
preferable to the Romanian “Please don’t
run over the drunks”

There was a time in my life when – if you told me there was a place I could go live for free and drink my brains out as I saw fit – I would have camped out overnight so I could be the first first in line on registration day. I spent much of my adult life proving how well I could maintain an orderly existence while ingesting mind-boggling amounts of intoxicants selected from the veritable smorgasbord of both socially acceptable and not-so-socially acceptable recreational drugs available to the modern party monster, and I guess I was pretty good at it for a while. My views have changed a bit though, after slowly calling it quits over the years, finally ending my personal war on drugs a few years ago when I surrendered to the most resilient of my challengers, alcohol. Which is why I have to say I have some mixed feelings about the idea of something I’d never heard of before today: a concept called a “wet house”. The idea is that trying to rehabilitate “chronic inebriates” (i.e.: hopeless drunks) is such a financial burden on society that giving them a place to live for free and just letting them drink their brains out is a better solution. They’re trying it in St. Paul, Minnesota, and San Francisco was considering the idea last fall, after seeing the results of a wet house program in Seattle that started in 2006. As you can imagine, the responses to the idea tend to be rather polarized, ranging from those who deride the program as “bunks for drunks” to those who argue in favor of the idea based on the concept of harm reduction. I’m still trying to process the realities of this scenario; although my gut reaction is that it’s an awful, awful idea, reason urges me to consider the possibility that if managed well, it may actually present an “end of the line” alcoholic with one last chance to get sober, when it’s obvious that the existing system has failed to help them.

Read Comments

  1. Posted by kristin on 02.18.11 6:52 am

    Wow. All I have to do is fly to Minneapolis to take part in this? In all seriousness, hard won sobriety has made my life pretty good and I wouldn’t want to abandon it at this point. I know there are a lot of people who cannot or will not get sober and this would be a very humane idea. I’ve known people personally who have frozen to death outside.

  2. Posted by admin on 02.19.11 12:01 am

    It really IS hard to get comfortable with the fact that this might just be a good idea, but when you’ve seen how deep an alcoholic can go, you can see a weird hope in the idea rather than a “house of death by drink” motif.

    [Posted by Blackberry from my new home in St Paul]


  3. Posted by Dani on 04.10.11 10:24 am

    An acquaintance of mine was involved in opening the Seattle property, a social worker & recovering alcoholic. The numbers showed $37,000 per person saved in ER services in the first year. To the previous poster, no, going to St Paul & drinking does not give you a bed. They requirements require a history of rehab attempts & hospitalization on the communities dime. The typical minimum age of the patients was mid 40s, though I remember one of his fatalities was a 33 year old native American who hemorrhaged from the esophagus. Yes there was a series of fatalities in the first months which shook them to their toes as well as the still necessary ambulance calls. His worst client, banned from the public areas of the building, refused to use bathrooms, or change his clothes. He shit himself & lived in the clothing. These people are pathetic & deserve our compassion. To the original poster of the blog, I am glad you overcame you addiction, but seriously, did you live in the street? Waking up on someone’s lawn a time or two is not the same.

  4. Posted by admin on 04.10.11 11:54 am

    Thanks for your thoughts Dani, in spite of your peculiar implication that I may have awakened on someone’s lawn. It’s interesting to hear a real world, firsthand story.

    I’m sure you can understand the cognitive dissonance an idea like this might arouse in anyone, whether they’re in recovery or not. Almost all the people I know who are in recovery had to struggle with what they thought about this idea. However, friends who do not self-identify as substance abusers typically leaned whichever way they leaned in alignment with their conservative vs liberal values, including several friends who are either social workers, therapists, or both. And the only people I’ve spoken with who think this is without question a good idea are a couple of friends who are both AA “old timers” and counseling professionals.

    My personal thoughts lean toward what I said in my first comment. This could work; and if it saves the life of a rock-bottom alcoholic, it’s almost irrelevant how much it saves a municipal budget.

  5. Posted by Fich on 05.23.11 1:38 am

    This is not a new concept – it is used a lot in the field of homeless transitional housing. There are lots of homeless men and women who have mental illnesses and self-medicate using alcohol, or are on the street because of alcoholism. This housing idea for the homeless is actually one of the few things that liberals and conservatives agree upon.

    Liberals see it as part of a social contract to help people who cannot help themselves, conservatives see it as a way to preempt the expenses incurred by hospital and police when dealing with injuries, fights or crimes caused by drunk, homeless individuals. Both sides agree that this strategy improves quality of life for others by getting the homeless off the streets, either for their own good or because they cause economic harm.