By Ken Gregoire, Ph.D. President/CEO
It is not uncommon for an alcoholic or addict to be
admitted to one of our treatment facilities totally defeated, devoid of
hope, denial washed away, resigned
to finishing out their remaining time
in a chemically soaked haze. We
know this as the bottom, not the
end, but a starting point, a place
where most addicted people need to
get before a life of sobriety is
possible. We are accustomed to
seeing loss of hope and resignation
in individual people and know what
to do to help.
Recently, though, I read a
newspaper article that was evidence to me of a loss of hope
on a grandeur scale. In Seattle, Washington there is an
apartment building at 1811 Eastlake. In order to be given a
government financed apartment at 1811 Eastlake a person
needs to be identified as one of the most ill of the alcoholics
in Seattle, a revolving door drunk. Once in an apartment a
resident is free to drink without restriction, without organized
attempts to provide help or alcoholism treatment for their addiction.
Public policy makers have determined that tax payers in
Seattle had been spending roughly $50,000 per year on each
of the most ill of the homeless alcoholics identified as eligible
for an apartment at 18ll Eastlake. The annual cost for a
homeless alcoholic at the apartment building is projected to
be about $13,000. Quite a bargain.
Now in order to qualify for a government financed apartment
and shuttle service to a grocery store where alcohol can be
purchased, prospective residents need to be homeless and to
have failed at least six times at trying alcoholism treatment to become sober. Six
times? As I write, I am thinking specifically about a
distinguished, professional man for whom I have immense respect
and affection. After being discharged from what was his
sixteenth treatment attempt he walked into an alley and saw a
bottle of whiskey still half full. Not yet ready to stop drinking
he accepted this good fortune, picked up the bottle and took a
healthy swig. The bottle contained urine, not whiskey.
Bottom! This wonderful gentleman has not taken a drink since
and has helped many addicted people find their way to sobriety.
I wonder what might have been if after that sixteenth treatment
attempt he had been given an apartment and allowed to drink
freely. This social policy experiment in Seattle seems to me
like enabling at its highest level. Darker yet, this experiment
seems to me to move us a step closer to a society where in
order to save money we make the chronically ill as comfortable
as possible before they die rather than expend the resources
necessary to treat them. It is interesting that we begin with the
disease of alcoholism. I wonder which chronic disease will be
the next one considered too expensive to treat.
This much I know. Alcoholism and drug addiction are highly
treatable illnesses. The most ill of the afflicted are not beyond
hope. I know that all of the wonderful Valley Hope helpers
working day to day with the addicted will continue to extend a
hand to each human being without judgment. We won’t become
complacent; we won’t give up on any alcoholic or addict.
We stand ready to be a part of “the family we never knew we
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