Wet House
March 6, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

My cousin is a lifelong alcoholic. Other than staying with friends, he is homeless. He has limited contact with the family and every attempt at sobriety has failed. He has a long history of arrests and jail time, all of which involve alcohol and alcohol-related offenses (shoplifting, public drinking and intoxication, et cetera). I need to find a wet house in either the Los Angeles or Phoenix area. No recommendations for AA or sobriety programs, please. It has been tried and he does not want that help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (1 answer total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I work with homeless people in Minneapolis, and I'm very familiar with the programs featured in the article that you linked to. While I am glad that there are places here that offer basic dignity and safety for the individuals who stay there, I also have some reservations about 'wet houses'. Around here they are often referred to on the streets as 'death houses', even among the most committed drinkers, because of a (partially warranted) belief that they are the end of the line for services. In fact, if you ask the extraordinarily compassionate and dedicated staff people at these facilities, they will often describe what they do as more or less hospice work.

I know that having a family member who drinks destructively in this way can be a huge burden, and it is difficult to know what to do or how to help, especially when the individual in question seems unwilling to cooperate. It is possible, however, for people to find room for growth and change on their own terms without having to go through abstinence-based (or abstinence-contingent) programs, provided that they are able to establish some basic stability that reduces the likelihood that their drinking will put them or other people in danger or run them afoul of law enforcement. (One 'alcohol-related' offense, for instance -- public intoxication -- is what my colleagues and I often refer to primarily as a homelessness-related crime. After all, I like to get drunk too, but since I have somewhere to do it, I don't get arrested for it.) Solving that problem, of course, is one of the main rationales for the wet-houses described in the newspaper article. But there might be other ways of addressing the problem that don't capitulate to the same degree to the (often erroneous) assumption that just because people are unmotivated to stop drinking, that their lives must be reduced to the drinking.

For instance, here's an article about Housing First programs that are going on in Los Angeles. These programs help people find independent, secure living situations that provide the security and stability that most of us would need to start thinking about other kinds of change, and offer a spectrum of supportive case management to help participants cultivate the skills they need to keep their housing. Sometimes this model takes a long time (and several apartments) to stick, but I have personally observed numerous examples of people who more or less fit the description of your cousin getting housed through this program and down the road returning to school, reconnecting with family, addressing mental and physical health concerns, finding work, and -- almost without exception -- cutting down on their alcohol consumption.

Housing First programs work differently in every city and county, so I can't presume to give you specific advice about how to get a referral in LA or Phoenix, but I encourage you to do some research and ask around.
posted by milkman at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

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