19 February 2011

"Wet houses" (hospices for alcoholics)

I thought I was pretty well informed, but I've never heard of this before.  Excerpts from a story at TwinCities.com:
Hagerman has been drinking for 39 years. He drinks despite decades of lectures, prayers and punishment. He drinks despite two years of homelessness, six DWI convictions, six treatments for alcoholism and 13 months in jail. What's ahead for Hagerman? The 54-year-old can see only one thing in his future — more drinking.

That's why he feels lucky to live in a hospice for alcoholics — St. Anthony Residence in St. Paul. There, 60 men can — and often do — drink until they die. There are no counselors, no scolding, no 12-step programs, no group hugs. Just the love of Hagerman's life, waiting for him every day — alcohol. On his weeklong binges, he chugs vodka, beer or mouthwash. They are interchangeable to him, he said, gazing around his 12-by-12-foot concrete apartment.

"I drink," he said quietly, "until I kill the damn day off."

For three years, St. Anthony has been operated by Ramsey County, St. Paul, the state of Minnesota and Catholic Charities, at a cost of $18,000 per person per year. It's one of four so-called "wet houses" in the state. Like a growing number of wet houses across the country, it allows alcoholics to drink, even when it's killing them...

Once alcoholics become residents, the police know their names. If one is found passed out in a park, the police simply return him to St. Anthony — no ambulances, hospitals or trips to detox. If needed, residents get medical care from an in-house nurse. If they get sick, they go to a hospital.

And when they get extremely sick? There's an in-house hospice service. Three to five residents die every year....
Please read the entire article at the link before leaving any comments here.


  1. Wow, sounds like a movie in the making. Tom Hanks in an airport meets Leaving Las Vegas.

  2. What an interesting article on a thought provoking concept. It seems to be an outgrowth of the idea of giving each person respect for their humanity, regardless of their affliction or addiction.

    I would guess that a majority of adults in the United States have either a friend, coworker, or relative who is an alcoholic. It's a problem of which most of us have some knowledge or experience. Thanks for bringing to our attention one of the ways of dealing with the situation of homeless chronic alcoholics.

  3. Very sad - hasn't anyone taught these drunks that ethanol can be injected?

    A bottle of vodka or "wash" lasts a lot longer that way... (and I bet that a little instruction in self-administered injection would cut the program's costs to eighteen dollars per person per year + the cost of cremation)

    If that sounds horrible, consider how it would be fundamentally different from the hospice's present services.

  4. There is something incredibly said, yet incredibly beautiful, at work here.

    There are people who, despite every effort they've made (or that has been made on their behalf), cannot overcome their addiction. Perhaps there are hurts that are so long-standing or deep that there simply is no cure. These men are terminal in a very real sense.

    I can only imagine what drove them to drink. It might have been mental illness. It might have been a lost child. Or a lost relationship. Or abuse. Or perhaps nothing more than simply drinking and getting caught in its tentacles. Whatever it was, they have been proven helpless in its grip.

    That's the tragedy. But the beauty is that someone seeks to understand. These alcoholics don't need another lecture. They don't need another recounting of the statistics. They know all of these things. If they could change, they no doubt would have.

    But they can't.

    At least someone is holding their hand as they slide down that long, dark tunnel to death. Someone who is saying, "We love you anyway."

    There has to be a special place in eternity for people who look beyond the fault of others and see their need.


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