One of the best examples of “harm reduction” as a policy for dealing with alcohol-related problems in the U.S. is a program commonly known as the “wet house.” Most wet houses are publicly-supported residential facilities that provide clean and secure rooms for individuals who are homeless and chronically dependent on alcohol. However, wet houses are not treatment centers. Instead, residents are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages on the premises freely, as long as they do not disturb or endanger other residents. There is no expectation that they will attempt to seek treatment or stop drinking. In fact, many wet house residents eventually “drink themselves to death.” Not surprisingly, the wet house is a controversial approach to the management of alcohol problems, with some critics arguing that it abandons any hope for helping residents overcome their dependence on alcohol.
Before participating in this discussion, you should view the material that I have linked to the Resources page for Unit 8 in the Online Review. First, read the two-part series of articles by Bob Shaw from the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minnesota. In Part 1, Shaw introduces some of the residents of a local wet house, the St. Anthony Residence, and takes a close look at how this harm-reduction program affects their daily lives. Shaw also touches on some of the controversy surrounding this program, which one critic describes as a “house of despair and death.” If you wish to learn more about how the wet house reduces the financial burden of chronic alcohol problems, you should also read Part 2 of Shaw’s series, “They Drink More and You Pay Less.” Finally, Shaw’s articles inspired a televised story on the St. Anthony Residence that appeared on CNN on May 11, 2011. Be sure to watch this video, which is also linked to Unit 8 Resources
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