A Safe Place to Drink

Chronic public inebriates cost government and social service agencies in King County, Wash., more than $100,000 per person per year in emergency-room costs alone, according to...
by | July 1, 2007

Chronic public inebriates cost government and social service agencies in King County, Wash., more than $100,000 per person per year in emergency-room costs alone, according to a 1999 county survey. That statistic is part of what is motivating a very controversial experiment in Seattle, where the city's Downtown Emergency Services Center is offering 75 homeless men and women with chronic alcohol addiction subsidized housing where they can keep drinking. 1811 Eastlake's mission is to see if housing--residents pay about $200 a month in rent and buy their own alcohol--can help stabilize their lives, reduce their alcohol consumption and improve their health care. It also aims to keep its residents out of emergency rooms, jails and King County's sobering center, and to reduce public nuisances. Caseworkers and nurses work with the residents to encourage them to seek treatment, and also manage their medications. The Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are both separately evaluating the project to gage its effectiveness over time. 1811 Eastlake is the first housing project of its kind in Washington State, although there are two similar projects in Minneapolis. Since the Seattle project opened in December 2005, alcohol activity on the downtown streets has been cut in half and human service agencies report their contact with drunks in the downtown area has been reduced by 56 percent. Preliminary figures also show emergency room visits by the worst cases have been cut by more than 90 percent, and use of the sobering center has dropped 24 percent. To learn more, visit www.desc.org/1811.html.