Hardcore drunks get free government-funded apartments, catered meals and complimentary beer runs from staff at their public housing facility under a unique health program in Seattle that could soon spread to other parts of the country.
The innovative social service experiment, dubbed “bunks for drunks,” is around five years old and could soon be adapted by other municipalities to rid streets of their worst homeless alcoholics. In Seattle, they dine on three catered meals a day at a new apartment building that cost taxpayers more than $11 million.
Liquor is free-flowing at the compound that caters exclusively to 75 hardcore alcoholics who usually crashed on the sidewalk before moving in. The building’s staff regularly goes on booze runs for residents, fetching beer, wine and vodka purchased with government welfare and disability checks. Intoxicated residents stumble around the facility, often hurling profanities and engaging in spats with each other, according to a recent news report.
When Seattle launched its program federal officials praised it and suggested that every city in the nation should construct a similar facility. Advocates claim that getting these people into housing ultimately saves money, lives and improves neighborhoods where they loiter and harass. The program is effective because, unlike facilities where mandatory recovery is viewed as a restriction, this one allows drunks to maintain their autonomy.
Now San Francisco officials are considering replicating Seattle’s program, which costs more than a $1 million a year. The San Francisco Department of Public Health already provides housing for about 1,000 substance abusers, people with mental illness and those infected with AIDS, but officials believe that there should be a “concentrated focus on chronic inebriates.”
One San Francisco lawmaker who is pushing for “bunks for drunks” in his city claims it’s an appropriate response for a “unique and difficult population” that’s hard to serve. The city already spends more than $13 million annually dealing with street drunks who pass out in doorways, vomit and urinate in public and get rushed to the emergency room.