For the past two years researchers have been scutinizing the drinking behavior of 95 chronically homeless alcoholics who have been living at a subsidized apartment building at 1811 Eastlake Avenue. This is a place, ever since it opened its doors in 2005, fraught with controversy. Wary neighborhoods have never been terribly excited about the social experiment of housing some of the city's most incorrigible drunks -- then allowing them to drink on the premises.
But a University of Washington study published yesterday in American Journal of Public Health found that residents cut back on their drinking by 40 percent in the first two years of the program.
"What we saw was when the chronic, homeless person with alcohol problems is given this kind of stability and doesn't have to drink to the point of intoxication to stay warm, they moderate their drinking," the report's lead author Susan Collins told Seattle Weekly.
Given the opportunity to drink at the Eastlake home, the study found that residents reduced their median number of drinks on a typical day from 20 to 12, and that there was a 50 percent drop in the number of people experiencing delirum tremens.
Collins, a UW professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said these kinds of programs, run by the Downtown Emergency Services Center, have been around since the 1990s, but this is a group who has received a lot of notoriety for their drunken behavior and have cost taxpayers 8.2 million in jail time, treatment centers and hospitalizations. A year at the home, this same population cost taxpayers half that.
The study also found that subsidized housing requiring curfews, treatment and mandates residents not to drink a drop of alcohol often, said Collins, "sets them up to fail."