What is a Wet House?
A Wet House is a homeless shelter for chronic alcoholics. The difference between a traditional homeless shelter and a wet house is that in a wet house the residents are allowed to drink as much alcohol as they want.
A wet house is where a person goes to drink until he/she dies. The residents not only suffer from the disease of alcoholism but from years of living on the street, drinking in and out of jail many have serious illnesses.
Those who support this type of method of helping alcoholics refer to a wet house as a “harm reduction model.” You might think rightly so because the men and women who stay in a wet house are not drinking on the street, therefore, they are in a safer environment.
It took a long time for me to think of this type of place as a model of treatment. When you mention harm reduction I think of giving out condoms to prostitutes or giving out needles to heroin addicts. After several years of working with alcoholics and meeting a few who met the criteria of being at a chronic state I began to understand the need for wet houses.
Justification for having Wet Houses
- Reduction in the homeless going to jail which cost more
- Reduction in the homeless using emergency rooms for care
- Resident care cost are thousands of dollars less than jail and hospital care
- Crime reduction having removed the homeless off the street
Concerns About Wet Houses
- Is it humane to let a person drink until he/she dies?
- How does the homeless presence affect a community?
- Is this a moral issue for the States who fund this type of housing?
- Is this type of treatment effective?
- Should government be funding this type of housing program
- Who will be responsible for those alcoholics behavior in a community
- No counseling is provided
The state of Minnesota has four of these homes each funded by the State and the Catholic Charities organization.
In Seattle, residents must pay 30% of their income to cover housing. The rest needed comes from grants and the state. The estimated cost to house a resident is 13,000 per year.
What Type of Care is Provided
- Nursing staff
- Three meals per day
- A room to stay in
- St. Paul, Minnesota’s wet house has an in-house hospice service
There are those who work in the field of alcoholism who advocate for forced detox and/or incarceration. They find the wet house method of treatment to be inhumane.
The opposite consensus is to meet the alcoholic where he/she is at and keep them safe as you possibly can despite the continued drinking.
Are Wet Houses Humane or Inhumane?
Have you ever seen a homeless person on the street during extreme heat or freezing weather? The average person walks past and quickly forgets or doesn’t see them at all. I believe that we can’t help everyone overcome their addictions. Doctors and therapist cannot cure all diseases. However, we should do the best we can to treat people with care and concern.
The thought of putting a roof over someone’s head and allowing them to drink sounds terrible to some people but they are more comfortable with the realism that those same people will drink under a bridge or in an alley until they die. Why because the public can pretend the problem doesn’t exist. I believe in the disease theory of alcoholism.
The modern disease theory of alcoholism states that problem drinking is sometimes caused by a disease of the brain, characterized by altered brain structure and function.
In 1956 American Medial Association classified alcoholism as an illness. Therefore since we cannot lock people up for simply drinking alcohol to keep them safe and we can no longer commit them to psych units to detox without permission. The best thing would be to provide a safe place for the homeless chronic alcoholic to live. It is humane to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. We do that for animals.
The continued use of alcohol is what the chronic alcoholic will do regardless the point is to get them off the street out of harm’s way and provide medical treatment. Bottom line in my opinion only God knows if this is the end or when a person may turn their life around. Yes I know for the chronic alcoholic most likely recovery will not take place but who are we to judge and dismiss what may be. Our job should be to be available regardless to help the weaker person.
What are your thoughts on this type of treatment for alcoholics? Do you think it is inhumane?
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Resource: NY Times