Sane Solutions in Seattle–How About Santa Cruz?

Study: Seattle home for alcoholics saved taxpayers $4 million

Published 10:00 pm, Tuesday, March 31, 2009
  • Nathaniel Porter, one of the residents of 1811 Eastlake, a home for people with chronic alcohol addiction, shows off his living quarters on Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Trujillo/
    Nathaniel Porter, one of the residents of 1811 Eastlake, a home for people with chronic alcohol addiction, shows off his living quarters on Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Trujillo/
For years, Nathaniel Porterbegan his day with a pint of vodka or whiskey, which often made him throw up, which made him reach for a beer. He was off his schizophrenia medication, going to the sobering center a lot, and living in shelters, which made him want to start the next day the same as the last.But a year ago, Porter moved into the 1811 Eastlake house, a subsidized apartment building near downtown Seattle for homeless alcoholics. He now often starts his day by sending his friend Jim to the corner shop for a six-pack of beer or a couple of tall boys, and settling in for “The Jeffersons” or “Good Times.” But he’s off the “hard stuff,” takes his medication regularly, stays out of the sobering center, and goes to a meditation group.

“It’s wonderful,” said Porter, an amiable 51-year-old, of his current home. “I stay out of trouble. I come in, go to my room. It’s nice and peaceful.”

Porter’s progress is echoed in a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, led by a University of Washington researcher, found that the once-controversial 1811 program — which provides housing and services without demanding sobriety — saved taxpayers more than $4 million in one year.

“It was perceived that we were opening a party house where people could drink and run amok and generally set their hair on fire,” said Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. The agency opened the home in 2005, after years of protests.

“This research shows that this is not the case.”

Researchers followed 95 chronically homeless alcoholics, who, before moving into the home, had run up a taxpayer bill of $8.2 million in hospitalizations, emergency services, jail time and sobering center visits.
After one year of being in the program, the same group cost taxpayers only $4 million, the study found. Each resident also drank less the longer they lived in the home, and their toll on publicly funded programs decreased as time went on.

“One of the overwhelming sentiments was just how much better life was at 1811,” said Mary Larimer, a UW professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and lead author of the study.

“Certainly, it is much easier (to change) when you are not cold, hungry and scared, and have a few meaningful events in your life.”

Larimer also compared residents against a control group of 39 homeless alcoholics on a wait-list to get into the home. She found that the residents, after six months of being in the home, cost taxpayers 50 percent less than the wait-listed group.

The research represents the first controlled study to look at the Seattle program, which is part of a national model called “Housing First,” in which people can live in subsidized homes and get services without having to give up drinking or attend treatment.

“This is an extraordinarily successful program,” said Ron Sims, the outgoing King County Executive. He admitted Tuesday that he was among the many initial skeptics of the program, and that he had been concerned about it “enabling” alcoholism. He reluctantly allowed the county to fund it, with an initial investment of $2 million, followed by $240,000 a year in operational support.

“It was a doggone good thing to do,” he said. “Our return on investment has exceeded any expectation.”
For Porter, the home has given him stability in what had been a chaotic life, leading him to drink less. He explained it simply:

“Out there, I wanted a roof over my head. I got to drinking heavy when I was thinking about getting a roof over my head. I came here. I got a roof over my head.”

Read the study here.

Read more:

NOTE BY NORSE:  Tip of the hat to Rowland for providing a page of references on “wet houses” which I reprint after the article below.  Santa Cruz, as Rowland notes, is moving in the opposite direction–with police and vigilante attacks on addicts, alcoholics, and homeless people under the false label of “Public Safety” and “Environmental Concern”.

We need sanctuary camps, wet houses, trash pick-up’s, Sharps containers, injection and inhalation centers, a restoration of public rights in public spaces for everyone, decent 24-hour restroom facilities (not just $4 million stadiums for the fans $14 million+ on De Sal  consultants), an “empty buildings” tax, scads of emergency housing (and legalized camping with adequate facilities in the meantime),  prison and police reordering, and other fundamental changes.  Not to mention an end to the Drug War.

Instead we get Public Hysteria generated by the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz Neighbors, the Downtown Association, the SCPD, Take Back  Santa Cruz, The Clean Team, & the Robinson-Comstock-Terrazas-Mathews-Bryant  Council majority using needlemania to push a “Pummel the Poor” campaign.

The same old labels that have been around for generations dismissing the lower class as lazy have been unearthed and are now–zombie-like–leading committees like the Public Safety Committee and the Public Safety Citizen Task Force, gloating.  Their recent victories?  The destruction of the city’s S.O.S. needle exchange program, a bigoted Mayor falsely conflating homeless survival behavior with “crime”, a collusive police force using hysteria to pad their ranks, & the new demonization of medical marijuana (the freezing of any new clubs in the city and the TBSC-orchestrated denial of permits to a new one in Harvey West recently).

Not to mention a surge in violent hate crimes against homeless people with the usual indifference or collusion from police, jail,  and medical authorities.

Instead of focusing on the huge agglomeration of wealth and power at the top, we are being directed to turn our anger and frustration on those below while the local police state expands,  the constitution disintegrates, and Obama’s undeclared wars multiply.

The “Public Safety Committee” of City Council is now calling for more laws against the homeless (24 hour stay-away orders if you’re cited in the parks–even before trial), triple fine zones for violating “don’t be linger in public if you’re penniless” Sitting and Panhandling bans, sweeps of the parks, tracks, and levees, more Park Rangers to aid in the pogrom, and–soon to hit City Council–a law banning “loitering” on the medians of roadways to remove panhandlers (and political protesters).

On the “liberal side”, we have the Homeless Lack of Services Center colluding with police in further repressing the homeless population–colluding with ID programs, “no impact” zones, failure to provide disability protection,  and failure to expand meaningful affordable shelter (i.e. campgrounds).   We have fluff and folly programs like the 180/180 which serve as fund-raising magnets for the few while ignoring emergency shelter needs of the vast majority.  And a local gang of Democratic Party hacks who don’t mind watching the Constitution (nationally and locally) shrivel as long as Obama’s doing the shriveling.

Bring Back Santa Cruz.

Additional Wet House info at: