The Poor, the Addicted, the “Unsympathetic”

I got into a bit of a debate on Feministe about a program than aims to pay addicts to get birth control. The whole post and articles about the program are there, so I won’t go into it here.

[Except to say that while the attention is all about paying addicts to get their tubes tied, the program also covers shorter term birth control. I said this about nine million times over there, and I started to bore even myself.]

But it’s interesting to find unusual, edgy, possibly offensive solutions to old problems. In Seattle, they’ve come up with another one: 1811 Eastlake. (See the project’s Web page and scroll down for all sorts of good and bad press about it.)

Apparently, the city of Seattle found that they spend huge amounts of money caring for hardcore, homeless alcoholics. The money spent in emergency room care and jail cells averaged about $50,000 for the worst of the worst.

Typical shelters and programs didn’t seem to do the trick, so they came up with 1811 Eastlake, which is now home for something over 70 people.

How is it different? At Eastlake, no one stops you from drinking in your room or anywhere else. You get a room, or at least a bed (depending on your health and other factors), and you do what you want.

So. Is this ok? Taxpayers pay much less money, and the people are no longer living on the street, but it’s hard to accept that the best plan is to give people a bed, without any kind of program to help them with addiction, and assume they’ll stay there until they die.

Not to mention the violation of the whole “work-ethic” thing, where people expect to do something for their home. If these people can’t even be asked to stop doing the self-destructive thing that put them on the streets in the first place, why do they get a free place to live?

On the other hand, isn’t it best to face reality? These people are chosen for being the worst of the worst. They’ve all failed programs before, several times. They’ve all been homeless for years. Shouldn’t we just admit that some people aren’t going to get better?

And if they aren’t getting better, then isn’t better for everyone else to get them off the streets? I’m not worried that people will say, “hey, why should I stop drinking and get my life together? If I keep up the head injuries and jail time, I may get a free place to stay!” So it’s not exactly as though we’re encouraging the behavior.

I think that I fall on the “face reality” side. It’s not as though other programs haven’t been tried. It’s not completely giving up. But if programs aren’t working, it may be better for everyone, including the homeless alcoholics in question, to at least give them a place to sleep. As one of the residents says, when asked about drinking in the home, “we’re going to drink somewhere.”

One Response to The Poor, the Addicted, the “Unsympathetic”

  1. AW July 29, 2006 at 7:35 pm #

    I do think it’s an interesting point to consider- when the best possible options (curing their addiction/getting them off drugs) just aren’t possible, what second-best options should we consider. Even one’s that on first glance, aren’t good ideas.
    I have told a lot of people about the CRACK program, and most people I speak to are broadly sympathetic to it. Particularly as it doesn’t really push ‘tube-tying’ since you get more money just on preventatives. And if it helps people not to have children that they can’t or don’t want to look after, then it’s hardly a bad thing.

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