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Wet houses offer some hope for all

Published: Wednesday, May 11 2011 2:13 p.m. MDT

Anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people in America are homeless each night, and

66 percent of the homeless have problems with alcohol, drug abuse or mental illness, estimates say.

And it seems that some states may have found a solution for late-stage alcoholics — a solution that seems to have produced positive results.

Minnesota currently has five wet houses. The theory behind these wet houses is that a person can drink, just not within its confines. According to CNN, "The theory is that it's?better to allow these guys to drink in a safe place?than to?end up on the streets and in the city's emergency rooms,?jails and detox centers."

The alcoholics that are accepted into these shelters, "are all men that have been through treatment, numerous attempts," says Bill Hockenberger, a St. Anthony Residence program director in Minnesota.

Minnesota isn't the only place with wet houses, however. San Francisco is also considering wet houses as a place "where chronic inebriates who mostly live on the streets can receive free housing and medical care, while they continue drinking."

Wet houses seemingly benefit everyone, NewsType.com states.

"Wet houses rely on harm reduction, or finding a way in which harm is reduced to the addict and to society, while allowing continued but responsible use."

These wet houses benefit more than alcoholics; they've also reduced costs to taxpayers.

Another CNN article says, "A University of Washington-led research team studied a group of 95 chronically homeless alcoholics and found that in one year, they cost taxpayers more than $8 million in hospitalizations, detox center treatments and incarcerations."

According to, healthland.time.comthe study further says costs were reduced to $1,492 per person monthly after six months, and to $958 a year after alcoholics were moved into the wet houses.

To some it's not about the money though, National Catholic Register said.

"The reason to support St. Anthony is not the money saved but the kindness extended to the residents," said Steven Miles, professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota. "It is the humanity of it, just like humanity drives the hospice system."

Huffington post addiction expert Stanton Peele supports the idea of a wet shelter. He notes studies show that despite the permission to drink, men in the wet houses cut their drinking from 16 drinks a day to 10 drinks a day by the end of the year.

He also mentions that it benefits the community by providing harm reduction and preventing costs.

He concludes by saying, "We all wish life — and people — would be perfect (like us). AA proponents can boast how quitting drinking has sanctified them. They can then claim these men's lives would be immeasurably better if they only got sober. But this is not everyone's reality."

The wet shelters hold no real hope of recovery for the men who have failed time after time to quit drinking, but they do offer them a place of safety, The New York Times said,

"There is a tacit acceptance that tomorrow will most likely be no better than today, and that some people — 'unfortunates,' as even the Big Book of AA concedes — will drink themselves to death."

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