Home Sweet Wet Home

Written by Jeff Johnson on July 30, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

goldenhydrantTaxpayers fund “wet housing” for alcoholics where they’re allowed to continue drinking

Hennepin County (and government in general) spends a great deal of money on treatment programs for individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol. In my opinion, much of this money is well-spent.

I learned last week, however, of a housing program receiving Hennepin County funding that takes a unique (and I would argue ridiculous) approach to taxpayer-funded “treatment” for chronic alcoholics. The program is referred to as a “wet house” or “non-sober house” in which chronic inebriates are provided housing and other government services on a long-term basis – and are allowed to continue drinking!

Hennepin County’s wet house funding is receiving the newest Golden Fire Hydrant award.

I’ve taken some heat from fellow conservatives in the past for strongly supporting spending on chemical dependency programs – at least for those that can prove they achieve long-term success for their participants. I believe effective chemical dependency treatment programs are a crucial part of any successful public safety agenda. If we throw an alcoholic or drug addict in jail for committing a crime without providing adequate treatment, I can all but guarantee they will be drinking or using again within hours of their release and likely will be committing another crime shortly thereafter.

The concept of a wet house, however, has nothing to do with treatment or correcting bad behavior.

Based on my research and conversations with several people familiar with wet houses, here’s the concept:

There are certain chronic alcoholics in society who are likely beyond treatment. Most of them are homeless and have failed treatment several times. Some of them are mentally ill. They live (and sometimes die) under bridges and spend time in and out of taxpayer-funded detox centers and jails. Over several years, they cost taxpayers a great deal of money.

These people are at a point in their lives where they refuse to try treatment again. If they are forced into treatment, they will fail. If they are placed in government housing that requires sobriety, they will leave.

At this point, it is better to find a place for them off the streets and out of jail or detox. They can be contained in a safe environment (in which they can continue to drink) and present less of a burden to society.

In the end, a wet house will cost less – maybe much less – than additional failed treatment attempts or endless trips to detox.

Bottom line (the argument goes), if taxpayers don’t spend this money now, they will pay more later.

Those of us holding the purse strings in government hear that argument a lot. In fact, supporters of almost every spending program that exists seem to make that same argument – the only way to save money for the taxpayers is to spend more of their money.

Sometimes the argument is accurate, sometimes it’s not. Even when it’s true, however, there’s a point where the argument becomes preposterous.

This would be that point.

I understand that most of these people are very sick, but giving up on them and actually accepting and enabling their destructive behavior while providing them with taxpayer-funded housing and services is wrong. Even with people at their lowest point, requiring some teeny tiny level of personal responsibility is in order – especially if taxpayers are going to foot their housing bill for an open-ended period of time.

In the grand scheme of things, Hennepin County spends a very small amount of money on wet houses – a total of just over $39,000 this year. The State of Minnesota is probably more deserving of this award than the county, as it has spent millions on wet houses throughout the state (in the Twin Cities, Duluth and potentially Rochester). Consequently, I’ll allow both units of government to share in the glow of the Golden Hydrant this month.


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