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Old 07-06-2006, 01:58 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Homeless Alcoholics Receive a Permanent Place to Live, and Drink

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Homeless Alcoholics Receive a Permanent Place to Live, and Drink
By JESSICA KOWAL
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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."
Okay, while I get the idea behind this "cost savings" I don't know if I agree with it from a moral stand point. If alcoholics get their place to live, then shouldn't hopeless junkies, crack addicts, crank heads, etc all get a place too?
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Old 07-06-2006, 02:01 PM   #2 (permalink)
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EXACTLY.

It's unfair that these people get free shit, while upstanding citizens may have less while working their asses off. GRAR.
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Old 07-06-2006, 02:10 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I agree with you 100% Cyn.

Why is it only for alchoholics?

Actually, giving it a bit more thought, it is probably the most prevalent abused legal drug out there...
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Old 07-06-2006, 02:22 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I think dealing with the alcoholics is just a starting point.

And LPM: more people are eligible for low-income housing than they think, as well as other social services.

Personally, I think it's great. Seattle has quite a homeless problem, and this is a good place to start for them.
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Old 07-06-2006, 02:31 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onesnowyowl
I think dealing with the alcoholics is just a starting point.

And LPM: more people are eligible for low-income housing than they think, as well as other social services.

Personally, I think it's great. Seattle has quite a homeless problem, and this is a good place to start for them.
There are plenty of people who do not want to accept social services of any kind even when they need them, but more often than not as you stated many do not know of services available to them before they hit rock bottom.
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Old 07-06-2006, 02:54 PM   #6 (permalink)
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So...lemme get this straight. They want to save money, so instead of spending $2m/yr, they build a $12m house, and expect it to cost $1m/yr to accomodate them. That's no savings in my book. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
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Old 07-06-2006, 05:20 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by DEI37
So...lemme get this straight. They want to save money, so instead of spending $2m/yr, they build a $12m house, and expect it to cost $1m/yr to accomodate them. That's no savings in my book. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Quote:
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.
Given that they're saving over a million dollars annually by keeping these people off of the streets, the project will have made up those initial start-up costs in about 11 years. To me, it is a good thing because these people are repeat offenders who keep costing the taxpayers money. As long as they're in housing, the cost is kept lower and more predictable, and they're not taking up jail space or detox space.

Oddly, it seems that this project might have the desired side effect of these people actually drinking less instead of more to survive the streets. That is also a plus.
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Old 07-06-2006, 06:39 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Okay, while I get the idea behind this "cost savings" I don't know if I agree with it from a moral stand point. If alcoholics get their place to live, then shouldn't hopeless junkies, crack addicts, crank heads, etc all get a place too?
No one requires you or anyone else to agree with it from a moral standpoint. In direct answer to your question, it is the homeless alcoholics that are attempting to survive at Pioneer Square. (Junkies are found elsewhere.) If you are unfamiliar with downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square is a tourist destination point. The math is simple once a person looks beyond the "outrage" that this article promotes and considers the importance of the "image" that Seattle wants to project to visitors.

Seattle is very much a progressive city, but it is also aware of it's own self-interest. For that reason, Seattle chooses to be proactive in resolving a problem that solves more than one agenda:
Quote:
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.
Quote:
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.
Does anyone here object to supporting our military veterans that have fallen through the cracks? Is anyone in the PNW not aware of the alcoholism problem among the Nations? It appears that many are paying their way with their disability checks. Cyn, your "morality" is not relevant, compared to the basic "humanity" of this project. It will pay for itself in a number of ways whether you and others approve of it or not.

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Thanks, Snowy, for your PNW perspective.
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Old 07-06-2006, 06:45 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
Does anyone here object to supporting our military veterans that have fallen through the cracks? Is anyone in the PNW not aware of the alcoholism problem among the Nations? It appears that many are paying their way with their disability checks. Cyn, your "morality" is not relevant, compared to the basic "humanity" of this project. It will pay for itself in a number of ways whether you and others approve of it or not.
My morality has nothing to do with anyone else's opinion, just my own perception and acceptance of the situation.
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Old 07-06-2006, 06:50 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
Does anyone here object to supporting our military veterans that have fallen through the cracks? Is anyone in the PNW not aware of the alcoholism problem among the Nations? It appears that many are paying their way with their disability checks. Cyn, your "morality" is not relevant, compared to the basic "humanity" of this project. It will pay for itself in a number of ways whether you and others approve of it or not.

--------------

Thanks, Snowy, for your PNW perspective.
That was one of the things that caught my eye too, regarding the number of Native Americans present. I think it's something those of us in the PacNW have always seen or been aware of, and here is a chance to take a step forward.

The damage has already been done in so many ways--we must do what we can now to repair it.
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Old 07-06-2006, 06:53 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Can you say Enabler?
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Old 07-06-2006, 06:59 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Why, yes, I can. Your point being?
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Old 07-06-2006, 08:06 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Ugh......

This is very sad but what the country unfortunately is coming to.

I work in a detox unit. One of the finest public facilities like it in the country. And these facilities are very much a dying breed.

In my field (Chemical Dependancy Counselling), the true money is in the justice system and NOT in treatment and that is where everyone is going. Places like mine are a dying breed, counselors like me (those who REFUSE to work in the CJ field) are a breed that is being killed off.

Places like the OP are just the beginning. There will be a time when the states, cities and feds realize it is just cheaper to let addicts and alcoholics have their drugs and give them their own communities with minimal hospital care and that will be that.

It is far cheaper to do that than to put them in jails, feed them, give them free medical, send them to treatment centers and pay for them just to see them out on the streets again going through the system over and over... (and yes that is what is happening). These are the leeches (people who have no desire to truly overcome their addictions, they just use and abuse the system, and giving it a bad name), who have destroyed the system so that the people who truly want and need help can't get it because the beds are filled, insurances won't cover or communities tired of the abuses and couldn't pay for the services anymore.

I have heard through collegues and several people close to the situation, there maybe, in a certain desert state legislation similar to the OP.

What the plan is, is to build a city in the desert, miles from anywhere, and ship drug addicts and alcoholics there. Once there they would have access to drugs, alcohol, housing and voluntary treatment, all paid for by the tax dollars. The rub being that if they leave the community, they are considered "criminals" and if caught would face prison time.

In some ways that maybe good for society, in others it would be Hell..... hopefully there is nothing to this but it has been going around for awhile and the whispers are getting to a nice conversation level.

I think this is only the beginning sign of things to come.

PS:.......... there is also a very strong argument that once you "give" these people a start (such as housing, food, etc. however minmal) that the drive to better themselves will kick in, use will go down and they will become productive citizens...... it's a good argument, but I am unsure of what to think about it, I think I would have to see results first.
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Last edited by pan6467; 07-06-2006 at 08:11 PM..
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Old 07-06-2006, 09:39 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Quote:
PS:.......... there is also a very strong argument that once you "give" these people a start (such as housing, food, etc. however minmal) that the drive to better themselves will kick in, use will go down and they will become productive citizens...... it's a good argument, but I am unsure of what to think about it, I think I would have to see results first.
Pan, the folks involved in this program are longterm alcoholics with the resultant medical problems, and aren't going anywhere but dead. They have chosen not to seek recovery any longer.

I completely agree with you that too many beds were occupied by addicts waiting for their next disability check. I saw it over and over again, and those that were sincere in becoming dependence free were shunted aside for lack of money.

You need to live in the PNW to fully understand the political and cultural influences here. Sweet Lady Sage might think it's enabling, but it is actually a tourist street cleanup and a place to die with a roof over your head. Seattle is an unusual place that I call home.
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Old 07-06-2006, 10:00 PM   #15 (permalink)
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This program would be great if it cut out the drinking. There are plenty of people in need of a home. Don't give them to unsympathetic drunks.

I can just see a man or woman with a child being turned away from what is a perfectly good accomodation for a home, "oh no, i'm sorry, this building is for drunks who have no desire to help themselves. It's back to the streets and shelters for you."

They'll make back the cost in time because of all the medical care and police involvement they once caused... but doing all this for people who have no interest in cleaning up? It doesn't matter what your past is, chronic alcoholism should not be an accepted lifestyle of help like this. I mean, we're paying them to be alcoholics when they spend their government aid on alcohol.
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:16 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Just keep in mind when making judgements about those on the streets...over 80 percent of the long term homeless are afflicted with a mental/emotional disorder...often the very cause of those disorders are the very streets they are subjected to...
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Old 07-07-2006, 05:45 AM   #17 (permalink)
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There has got to be a better sollution than to give them a place to keep drinking. I guess the next thing is to start paying bills for people who can't or more likely won't pay their own. Just think- no more chapter 13's.
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Old 07-07-2006, 06:55 AM   #18 (permalink)
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While I think I'd prefer we just let them die in the streets for their own repeated failure to seek qualified help, this certainly makes the streets cleaner. And it's cheaper than jail.

I'm all for it.
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Old 07-07-2006, 07:21 PM   #19 (permalink)
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To be honest, I don't really know what to think about this but my gut instinct is that it's a good idea. If it helps some get back on their feet and become productive members of society, that's great. If it ends up costing the productive members of society less money in the long run, even better. Until then, I'm all for being able to go to Seattle and not having to see as many homeless drunks sleeping in doorways.
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