Opinion: Housing chronic alcoholics makes moral, budget sense
Nick Lott looks out the window at St. Anthony Residence.
May 11th, 2011
11:05 AM ET

Opinion: Housing chronic alcoholics makes moral, budget sense

Editor's note: Bill Hockenberger is program manager for Catholic Charities St. Anthony Residence. He has worked at St. Anthony Residence for 16 years. Founded in 1869, Catholic Charities annually serves 37,000 people regardless of faith and is fully accredited by the Council on Accreditation. Catholic Charities is a member of Catholic Charities USA and was honored by the Charities Review Council. More information about Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis can be found at cctwincities.org.

At St. Anthony Residence, we never give up hope.

The 60 men who live at St. Anthony, a housing program run by Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, are used to all of us giving up on them, of thinking they aren’t worthy of our time and energy, of looking at them as if they should be thrown away.

We believe every person - regardless of his choices, addiction, status in life - deserves our help and that we must respect each person’s innate dignity.

Programs such as St. Anthony save taxpayer money, they improve community livability, and they uphold people’s innate dignity. They make common sense, economic sense and moral sense.

At Catholic Charities, we base our work on Catholic social teaching, which tells us that we must honor the innate dignity of each person.

There’s no dignity in sleeping under a bridge or lying face down on a sidewalk, in the park or on someone’s lawn.

Moral arguments aside, it’s difficult to argue with the economics.

An ambulance ride and trip to the emergency room can easily cost $2,000. One night in detox is about $220. The bill to the taxpayers can easily reach thousands of dollars within a week.

We spend $49.38 per night per person at St. Anthony. And last year, 93 percent of the residents at St. Anthony didn’t have a visit to detox.

These programs free up police and emergency medical resources for other purposes. Police in Minneapolis and St. Paul have a list of our clients. If they find one of our clients, the police bring him back to St. Anthony. No ambulance call. No trip to the ER. No overnight in detox. No hours of paperwork for the police officer to complete.

Yes, the people who live at St. Anthony can continue drinking. They can’t drink in their rooms, and many reduce the amount they do drink. It’s called harm reduction. We work with the men to reduce the harm to themselves with alcohol and to the community at large. And for those who express interest, we offer referrals and access to rehabilitation services. In 2010, 29 percent of the men who left St. Anthony entered recovery and found market-rate housing.

People who live in supportive housing for chronic alcoholics have been through treatment five, six, seven, eight or more times. We are grateful for the treatment programs that support families and people who face addiction, and those programs fill an important role in our society.

The people who live at St. Anthony aren’t the “functional alcoholics” who drink too much after work and come into work late.

They are people whose disease is so severe that they cannot work. They have lost their jobs, their families and their homes. But many in our program reestablish relationships with their families, sometimes after years of estrangement.

When people talk about rehab, they talk about going back to their families, jobs, homes. The majority of the men who live at St. Anthony never had supportive families, never had jobs that allowed them time off to address their addictions or even had jobs at all. They never had the home with the car in the garage waiting for them. The majority of people who live at St. Anthony grew up in poverty or had families that moved frequently and were homeless.

These programs save taxpayers money. They improve our communities. They give people a sense of dignity. And we believe that’s the least we can do for each other.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Dave

    What a great palce this is.

    May 11, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sophie

      Ditto Dave's reply.

      May 11, 2011 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
  2. your local bud tender

    i'm a chronic marijuana smoker...where's my living fcility or safe house? oh wait thts not necessry ...no need for this safer drug in the majority of the USa

    May 12, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Chiltepin

    Duuuude! where's your house? you lost it under all those doritos bags when you got the munchies...DUUUUUDE! Seriously, DUDE where's my car?

    May 13, 2011 at 04:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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