Bunks for Drunks: Costs of Seattle's Social Experiment
Thursday, July 26, 2007
By: Terrence C. Watson
Wastewatcher, July 2007
If one lives in Seattle, there are clean, furnished apartments in the downtown area for less than $200 a month. It’s a great deal, with one catch: in order to move in, one has to be an alcoholic. Once someone qualifies and takes up residence at 1811 Eastlake, no one will ever tell him or her to stop drinking.
Some have called it "bunks for drunks." More than $11 million in local, state, and federal money has been used to construct an apartment building for 75 of Seattle’s worst "public inebriates," homeless alcoholics known for harassing people in the streets when not sobering up in jail. The city hopes that keeping them off the streets will save money and protect the public.
Residents of Eastlake can drink as much as they like. They’re not required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other addiction-treatment program; they’re provided with free meals and round-the-clock medical care.
The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), the non-profit organization that owns 1811 Eastlake,
estimated the cost of housing the 75 alcoholics to be $13,000 per person, or about $950,000 annually.
DESC claims this is less than what the city would normally spend housing them in jail, temporary sobering centers, and medical facilities. Seattle Police Sgt. Paul Gracy recently told CNN that the 75 alcoholics warehoused at 1811 Eastlake represent a "miniscule" portion of the city’s problem with homeless alcoholics.
However, no one really knows how much Seattle’s newest social experiment will cost. Since the residents are not required to cut back on their drinking, their need for medical treatment is only going to increase over time. In July of 2006, Margaret King, one manager of the building, admitted to the New York Times
that residents’ health problems were already driving up the residents’ medical costs. Taxpayers are paying for the residents of 1811 Eastlake to slowly, and expensively, drink themselves to death.
DESC’s estimates also do not factor in the costs Eastlake imposes on others. For Example, Mike Anderson is part-owner of Northwest Trophy, one of 1811 Eastlake’s neighbors. Since the building went up in December of 2005, his sales have flattened. His costs have gone up because he can no longer safely leave packages outside for pick-up/delivery and must pay extra for shipping. His business partner has even received death threats from one Eastlake resident.
Northwest Trophy sued unsuccessfully to stop the construction of 1811 Eastlake. Now Anderson is preparing to sell the building that has housed his family business for decades.
Until the city begins tracking the impact of its experiment on long-term healthcare costs and local communities, the so-called "Bunks for Drunks" project’s true cost will never be known. It would be irresponsible to subject business owners, neighborhoods, and some of society’s most vulnerable people to additional experimentation until the program’s expense can be fully assessed.