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Bunks for drunks

"Bunks for drunks" Continued...

Issue: "Can't run or hide," Oct. 14, 2006

Instead, the environment enables alcoholism, laziness, and other antisocial behavior. Hobson denied WORLD's request to tour the facility, but disheveled beds and unkempt living quarters are clearly visible through the many open windows facing a nearby elevated street.

Robb Anderson, co-owner of Northwest Trophy next door, says the incidence of public urination and defecation in the alley behind his shop has greatly increased since the new tenants arrived. He is fed up with paramedics' trucks and police cars blocking his limited customer parking almost daily. He'd like to move but doesn't believe he could receive fair market value for his land. "Littering, passing out, throwing up, blocking my driveway, it's bad for business," he said.

Many of Anderson's customers now prefer to receive products by shipment instead of visiting the store. "I eat those costs," he said. "It's frustrating." The Seattle Police Department recently assigned a specific officer to respond directly to Northwest Trophy's concerns-yet another unforeseen expense for the project.

Elias Alfi, owner of the nearest neighborhood grocery two blocks south, says the influx of alcoholics to the area has helped his business by spiking sales of wine and beer. But he's also noticed more frequent panhandling and recently had to restrain an 1811 Eastlake resident from assaulting a customer. "Most of them are behaving themselves, but a few are not," he said. "We've had to put some in jail for theft."

Residents have reason to avoid seeking regular employment, since rent is adjusted on a sliding scale depending on reported income. With room and board covered, tenants can acquire more than enough alcohol money from panhandling alone. That's the life plan of Jim Samson, who is thrilled to do his drinking indoors after two decades on the street. He appreciates the building's absence of any stigma against drunkenness. "If you're going to drink, they encourage you to go to your room and drink," he said of the staff workers. "They treat you with respect."

Samson, 42, says he knows he needs treatment for his addiction to alcohol but has not taken any steps in that direction since moving into 1811 Eastlake. His memory is foggy as to just how long ago that was. Hall, likewise, admits his need for help but has not yet sought any: "I've always wanted to quit drinking. It's not the answer, but it helps you forget the question."

Hobson hopes that a sense of gratitude will inspire Samson, Hall, and others to begin making better choices. The "housing first" concept assumes alcoholism results from the external forces of homelessness and life pressure. It seeks to remove those forces and thereby cure the disease. Little to no focus is placed on altering the internal forces of the human heart. "We've got to stop dealing with alcoholics in a strict, heavy-handed way where we provide a house but no alcohol is permitted inside," Hobson said. "This is a more rational way of dealing with this population."

Hobson believes cold-turkey abstinence approaches are unrealistic and ineffective for the most hard-core alcohol abusers. But throughout Seattle and most major cities in the country, private rescue missions successfully oversee the recovery of seemingly hopeless street drunks on a regular basis-most often with zero-tolerance policies and zero public funding.

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