What is a Wet House?

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

  1. Reduction in the homeless going to jail which cost more
  2. Reduction in the homeless using emergency rooms for care
  3.  Resident care cost are thousands of dollars less than jail and hospital care
  4. Crime reduction having removed the homeless off the street

Concerns About Wet Houses   

  1. Is it humane to let a person drink until he/she dies?
  2. How does the homeless presence affect a community?
  3. Is this a moral issue for the States who fund this type of housing?
  4. Is this type of treatment effective?
  5. Should government be funding this type of housing program
  6. Who will be responsible for those alcoholics behavior in a community
  7. 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

  1. Nursing staff
  2. Three meals per day
  3. A room to stay in
  4. 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?

**If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful Comment below and Share on your favorite social media site.**

Lydia Brown




Resource: NY Times

curbed. com
photo credit: mripp Water or wine? via photopin (license)

photo credit: Design_Ex IMG_3505-1-5, Soirée trop arrosée / Drunken night via photopin (license)

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Lydia Brown

Lydia Brown, MS, MAC, CSAC, CADAC Editor ATN, Home Business Owner Advocate for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment CARF Surveyor

16 thoughts on “What is a Wet House?

    • November 28, 2016 at 1:30 am

      Thank you Edward for your comment and so glad you support this idea many don’t get it.

  • November 4, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Well, having lived with a couple of alcoholics, neither of whom overcame their addiction, this makes sense to me. It’s incredibly sad, but I agree that one never knows what will trigger that point where someone suddenly cares about living, so I’d rather we do what we can to help than abandon them to the streets. Wow, I can’t even begin to imagine how depressing it would be to work in one of those places!
    Marquita Herald recently posted…Reflections on Redefining StressMy Profile

    • November 6, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      My thoughts too Marquita the visual of working there I found to be depressing. Thanks for your comment.

  • October 24, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Lydia,

    Hmm When I first heard of this my knee jerk reaction was heck no. Why have a place for people to drink themselves to death. But with further information, it does make sense. An alcoholic is going to do it anyway, so why not put a roof over their head and some food in their mouths. Maybe they can get a chance with a little kindness. Who knows?

    Donna Merrill recently posted…36 Loyal Readers of Donna Merrill TribeMy Profile

    • October 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Donna, my feelings exactly “who knows.” I am one who believes in miracles. Thank you for your comment.

  • October 23, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Lydia,
    Thanks for your interesting post. I hadn’t come across the idea of wet houses in the past, and at first didn’t think they were a great idea. But having read your arguments, I can see the logic and am persuaded that this is preferable to these people dying on the streets. Such a shame how much grief is perpetuated by alcoholism.

    Joy – Blogging After Dark

    • October 24, 2016 at 3:22 am

      Hey Joy, it is sad that alcoholism and drug addiction has been the foundation of such sorrow in the world. Thank you for your comment.

    • October 24, 2016 at 3:26 am

      Hi Dr. Elise thank you for your comment glad you found this post informative.

  • October 23, 2016 at 4:06 am

    There probably comes a stage when sadly death from alcoholism is inevitable so this seems humane to me. It keeps our streets safer from people desperate for money to buy booze. As Liz says it means that the people in detox are with others who have at least some intention of giving up.

    • October 23, 2016 at 5:44 am

      Hi Sue, I too agree with Liz they are with people who can help them. Detox most likely will not be an option these people will chose. The chronic alcoholic has been in and out of treatment for years.

  • October 23, 2016 at 3:44 am

    Hello Lydia! HUM? I am not sure what to think about this wet house that you mention here! I do know a lot about alcoholism as my ex is an alcoholic…. I guess I would need to get ore information before I could truly understand the reasoning behind it all! I spent many years of my life as an enabler so it is hard for me to picture..

    Thanks for sharing
    Chery :))
    Chery Schmidt recently posted…Transform Your Online Business And LifeMy Profile

    • October 23, 2016 at 5:43 am

      Hey Chery, this option is for the chronic alcoholic. These people have been in and out of treatment, jail for years.
      The decision has been made to continue drinking regardless of the consequences. So the Wet Houses are like the last
      place for them to be as comfortable as possible but allows them to drink and have a safe place to live. Thanks for your comment.

  • October 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Completely agree with the option of wet houses. It means that people who are detoxing have a different space – two very different client groups who can’t successfully live together.

    Means that there is support – particularly if alcohol related dementia starts etc. And predominantly a safe place to drink. People have the right to be safe no matter what their choices are 🙂

    • October 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Liz, that is pretty much where I am at. I would love to have alcoholics find recovery it’s just not that simple for everyone. This way at least they are safe. There does need to be a way to address the needs of the communities these houses are in. It is not good for people to be drinking and loitering in neighborhoods and that could be a condition of being able to stay in the program. Thanks for your comment.


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