no homilies about hope!

photo credit: jasoneppink

A Guardian article highlights a wet shelter in Minnesota:

…no homilies about hope or the future.

Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves and loved one’s when we’re struggling with a chronic illness?

Can it be doubted, then, that such programmes provide a win-win situation?

Note that on the program’s website, they emphasize keeping them safe and sheltered, “until they are ready.”

Why would the writer omit this, presenting the program differently that the program presents itself?

Meanwhile, within the limits of their condition, drinkers attending facilities like St Anthony’s are surprisingly happy.

And that, perhaps, is the problem. Hopeless drunks aren’t supposed to be happy: they’re supposed to suffer until they see the error of their ways and submit to a cure. Critics of the wet houses never say this, of course; they talk about wet houses “giving up” on people, about “writing people off” – and yet, though they may well be sincere, their opposition to harm reduction programmes raises serious questions about liberty and civil rights.  When a grown man who, whether drunk or sober, maintains, often with real cogency and persuasiveness, that he does not wish to be treated for what other people may think of as a “condition” but which he sees as an essential part of his identity, what right does anyone have to oblige him to seek therapy? It may not be desirable (or rather, we may not see it as desirable) to be a chronic drinker, but it is not so long since it was seen as equally undesirable to be gay. When Alan Turing was forced to endure female hormone treatment (“chemical castration”) in an attempt to “treat” his homosexuality, many people thought this was an appropriate course of action and attributed his suicide to his unstable – ie deviant – personality. That was in 1954. Will some future observer, say 50 years from now, look back on the treatment programmes that so many drunks have to endure and see a clear infringement of their most basic civil liberties?


Of course these people have the right to refuse treatment and to choose to drink. This is not in dispute. I’ve wrestled with the questions of liberty when helping addicts before.

When we have effective treatments for homeless schizophrenic who resist treatment, should we just give up? Their are a lot of conditions that often don’t respond to the first, second, third… eighth treatment. What keeps patients from giving up is hope and compassion from helpers AND access to treatments that stand a realistic chance of success.

He bemoans the characterizations of harm reduction as giving up, but how can what he advocates be described as anything else? (Note: Harm reduction does not have to be about giving up and often is not.)

If you really believe they are hopeless and you really believe that they are happy, a program that offers no expectations and “…no homilies about hope or the future” makes perfect sense.

…this is exactly what drinkers are offered, free of charge. For years, this “wet house” (one of four in the state) has provided shelter to its hopelessly alcoholic residents, at a cost of $18,000 per person per year.

I wonder…did anyone offer these people $18,000 worth of care on an open-ended basis to recover from their alcoholism, a chronic illness? It wouldn’t cost that much and they’d be free to decline. Why is that road not taken?

UPDATE: This article sounds like an Onion article:

St. Anthony feels like Death Row. The message is refreshingly grim: Everyone is going to keep drinking, it’s probably going to kill them, and no one’s going to talk them out of it.

“It’s just so honest here,” Hockenberger said. “I ask someone, ‘Have you had a drink today?’ and they say: ‘Definitely! I wish I had some more!’ ”

Once inside, the men come and go as they please.

Mostly, they go to buy alcohol. They walk to nearby liquor stores. Or to drugstores, for mouthwash — which has up to 28 percent alcohol.

Hockenberger had to ask the nearby Holiday gas station to stop selling 99-cent bottles of rubbing alcohol — too tempting for his men, he said.

To get money, the alcoholics beg on the streets, collect cans for cash or work odd jobs.

When they bring the alcohol back, they check it in at the front desk. When they want to drink, they check it out and take it to the backyard patio.

There, they drink with others, shouting and waving bottles and telling stories. Or they sit alone, taking a sip every minute or so.

They stagger back to their bedrooms, sleep it off, wake up and do it again.

I don’t object in any way to this kind of place existing, just that it’s hailed as a compassionate solution to the problem of severe alcoholism.

If it’s needed, it is because of our failure to offer real help. Like other illnesses, if you under-treat (or fail to treat) an illness, it becomes more and more complicated to treatment and more resistant to existing treatments.

3 thoughts on “no homilies about hope!

  1. Ridonculous. Drinking alcoholically is slow suicide. Would you say, “don’t encourage that person to step back from the ledge – it’s their right to jump”? Of course not. There are laws against drunk driving and tattooing people who are drunk *because a person can’t be expected to make a reasonable, responsible or well-considered decision while soused* So why would anyone expect a drunk person to make a reasonable decision about drinking – unless they’ve dried out long enough to think straight? So, in fact, respecting a person’s right to decide what to do for themselves means giving the person the opportunity to dry out so they can consider their options. And if the Guardian or the shelter are really proponents of letting people do whatever they drunkenly want, then why not let them drink rubbing alcohol? Too fast of a suicide? LOL Oh, Guardian, keep the Onion-quality work coming.

  2. To me, there’s a line between providing support to a person and participating in their illness. The line is not always clear, but as long as the goal is to keep moving addicts in the direction of recovery, I’m ok with it. This seems like a case of giving up and settling.

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