City's "Wet House" Idea

When it comes to drunks, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

By Matt Baume
|  Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010  |  Updated 3:01 PM PDT
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City's "Wet House" Idea

Getty Images/Jeff J. Mitchell

The hangover was likely nothing compared to the criminal charges.

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Fancy a drink?

San Francisco is considering establishing a "wet house," which is a residential care facility where chronic inebriates are allowed to continue drinking as long as they receive preventative medical care.

The idea comes from Seattle. A wet house opened there five years ago.  It provides 75 units and claims to save the city $4 million.

At first, it might seem crazy to offer so much attention for free to homeless drunks.

But consider the alternative: left to their own devices, they'll eventually incur far more severe injuries, which will require even more expensive medical care -- and jailing. Given the choice between expensive treatment and comparatively cheaper preventative care, the wet houses are looking like an attractive option.

A study last year determined that just 225 people were responsible for nearly 2,000 ambulance pickups. Treating those people cost the city of San Francisco over $13 million, according to the Department of Public Health.

The measure has support from Mayor Gavin Newsom, who himself sought treatment for alcohol abuse in 2007. Newsom is less sympathetic to the recent proposal to fund alcohol treatment with a small booze tax, and has pledged to veto the measure. Backers of the treatment-funding scheme plan to rally outside Newsom's Plumpjack restaurant today.

Other medical professionals want the city to go even further: incarcerate people against their will and forcibly detoxify them. No word on how much that'll cost to implement -- or to defend against lawsuits.

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