Dueling Commissioners

Written by Jeff Johnson on August 21, 2009. Posted in General


Differing Views on Wet Houses

Unbeknownst to each other, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and I both wrote short letters to the editor to the Star Tribune that were printed side-by-side on Tuesday:


I’ve received a great deal of feedback — both positive and negative — regarding my criticism of “wet house” funding in last week’s Star Tribune (“Not always sober, but safe,” Aug. 12). The story originated from a posting on my blog (www.taxpayerwatchdog.org) about county and state funding of homes for chronic alcoholics in which they are allowed to continue to drink alcohol.

 Despite what I have heard from some, my opposition to this funding is not based on a lack of compassion (which is always the accusation when one opposes funding a particular program) or a fundamental ignorance of the disease of alcoholism.

Rather, it’s a simple reality for policymakers in the current budget climate. Taxpayer money is a finite resource and I would prefer to spend it on chemical dependency treatment programs, some of which work very well. I believe we are underfunding these programs and we have many chemically dependent people clamoring for them. Every dollar we spend on wet houses is a dollar we cannot spend on treatment.

JEFF JOHNSON, PLYMOUTH; Hennepin County commissioner


The recent right-wing attacks on Anishinabe Wakiagun compel me to create a new award: the Drive Off the Cliff Award for bad ideas, named in honor of the radical right’s recent success in driving the American and world economies off a cliff.

Now they’re after a program that saves taxpayers money, reduces drinking and provides a more humane existence for a group of chronically ill individuals (to say nothing of getting a number of homeless people off the streets — though admittedly not suburban streets, but that shouldn’t matter).

At some point we ought to stop listening to advice from people leading us toward the precipice. When are we going to quit listening to advice that will lead us over yet another cliff?

 PETER MCLAUGHLIN, MINNEAPOLIS, Hennepin County Commissioner

The letters speak for themselves, but let me make one comment. The argument that wet houses reduce drinking is questionable. I’ve done quite a bit of reading on this topic in the last few weeks and have talked to several treatment professionals (both those who support wet houses and those who do not) and there seems to be general agreement that sobriety is the rare exception to the rule for residents. Once in awhile, someone will change his or her life and become sober, but it seldom happens.

In fact, I met with two representatives from a wet house in the Twin Cities who told me that they will not accept people under 35 into their program because they don’t want someone that young to give up hope – which is what happens to many people who enter a wet house. In this particular house, the residents are unable to hold any sort of job and the average stay is over two years, with some residents dying there. These are not places for people to go who want to become sober.

By invitation, I’m visiting the Glenwood residence, a wet house in Minneapolis, next week. While it probably will not change my opinion about this issue, I’m always interested in learning more and I appreciate the invitation from those who run the facility.

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