Aug 1, 2009
Classic social programs dealing with long-term alcoholics are expensive and do not have a great success rate. In 2005, a controversial experimental program in Seattle began to put homeless drunks in their own apartment building and let them drink as they pleased.
A new study came out in JAMA this week detailing whether the concept of “Housing First,” as it’s known, had any impact (here’s an AP piece on the study). The 98 street drunks whom the study tracked had cost the public $4,066 a month prior to entering 1811 and afterwards they cost $1,492 a month after six months in the facility and $958 a month after 12 months. That’s a pretty big savings and, oddly enough, some of the residents began to drink less. Some even got sober. (Some also died.)
While this sort of program would have to replicated elsewhere to see if these savings hold, it sure is a vastly more humane way to deal with a chronic urban problem than in the past. It also has all sorts of implications for addressing homelessness among the mentally ill, chronic crackheads and junkies of every stripe. My own guess is that, for example, housing the mentally ill who are homeless instead of herding them into very stressful homeless shelters or leaving them to the streets would improve their mental health issues dramatically, with or without medications. There is something magical about having a roof over one’s head, even a modest one.
The financial aspects of this experiment are not all that surprising, but is it really a good idea? Is it more ethical to spend time and money to try to save people from their own bad decisions, or to give them the dignity of living their lives the way they choose, however harmful? Does this kind of program send the wrong message? Or would it make our streets safer? Link -via reddit
(image credit: Flickr user dno1967)