Lisa Demer writing for the ADN:

An old motel on the edge of Fairview may get new life as a permanent home for chronic street alcoholics -- a way out of homeless shelters and camps in the woods for people who want something better, even if they are not yet ready to quit drinking.

Supporters say it could provide a safe home for those who had all but given up on a regular life.

The vision for the Red Roof Inn is in early stages and nothing is set yet. A private agency that works with homeless alcoholics heard the motel, at Fifth Avenue and Karluk Street, was on the market at a low price. Now it's rushing to pull together funding and political support.

"We're trying to help the 50 most vulnerable individuals," said Melinda Freemon, director of RuralCAP's Anchorage division, including the Homeward Bound residential program.

If it happens, the project would be Anchorage's first large-scale effort to house chronically homeless alcoholics. It would be a form of Housing First, an innovation that makes getting a home -- not just a mat on a shelter floor -- first priority.

I am no longer surprised by the hatred that comes from the conservative right. The city of Anchorage is proposing a partial solution to the problem of homeless inebriates and the venom starts to flow. Ignorance about alcoholism and an apparent jealousy of someone getting help fuels the debate. If they only knew the misery and pain most of these people have lived with for years they would be ashamed of themselves. It is clear that many in Alaska continue to believe that alcoholism is just a bad choice. The old thinking was that all the mental health problems found in the population of addicts and alcoholics was due the use of the chemicals. Now is it known the mental illness was often the original problem in many cases and many are self medicating. This is made worse by difficulties getting access to healthcare. These problems can range from the most severe forms of mental illness to emotional problems or depression due to life circumstances. In the case of native people some of those circumstances cause cultural disconnection and what I call lost people. Many people who have ended up in the prison system of this state have been torn down to the point of not being able to function as fully integrated adults. Most people in society think this is the opposite of what the prison system is designed to do. Their self esteem is so low they want to escape from themselves. Living on the streets is hard to tolerate, so people drink or use more and more over time. It’s cold, uncomfortable, they get yelled at for just being somewhere, or they may be in physical or emotional pain. Often it was a health problem that was the initial reason they became homeless.

The system provides ex-inmates little to no assistance when they leave incarceration, mostly just dumping people. There is some job hunting assistance and GED assistance. There are some lists of housing which I will discuss. The criminal history information is easily accessed by anyone without having to even make an official request.This is especially ridiculous for cases of non-violent offenses which only affected the individual who was arrested for it, such as possession of a small amount of marijuana or a prescription drug crime. Employers refuse to hire them. Landlords who have decent rentals refuse to rent to them. They are barred from section eight housing. There is no way to have records sealed in Alaska after a period of law biding behavior or successful completion of parole/probation or chemical dependency treatment. Sealing records simply means being able to apply for a job or travel without the records being accessed, it does not keep law enforcement agencies from having access to the records.

"The concept is intriguing," Sullivan said Wednesday. "You are getting people out of public parks and camps and into secure housing. That sounds like a positive step, but really the devil's in the details."

The mayor said the location wasn't ideal -- the Red Roof is between busy Fifth and Sixth avenues. He said he needed more information about staffing, financing and remodeling, and he wanted to hear the specific recommendations from his homelessness leadership team. He is supposed to be briefed on the Red Roof and other preliminary ideas today.

Supporters are going ahead. Freemon, who's on the homelessness team, said RuralCAP is navigating three areas at once: crafting a grant proposal for funding, examining any municipal land-use restrictions, and evaluating the suitability of the property itself.

Mayor Sullivan, please don't get in the way of people using rational thinking to find better solutions. If you think the solutions to homelessness and addiction are going to be pretty and perfect and wrapped in a lovely package you are living in a dream world. Housing should be the first step, not the last one. Healing can't take place on the streets. Inebriates are often living in hotels in the winter in Alaska anyway. This one will have services and monitoring which makes it a better situation than any of those other hotels. I was homeless in Anchorage last summer. I went to a lot of the places the inebriates go, I observed them. I walked down the same streets in the same neighborhoods they did and I talked to them. I also talked to people in many agencies which were providing social services. I am on disability which is not a lot of money, but more than many get. I expected to find a room or some place to stay and quickly found this was not possible. I found out a lot of other people who were not on drugs and alcohol were also in the same position I was in, some ill, some mentally ill, some unemployed, and some veterans. I know how to access social services as I used to coordinate them myself and had resources to look for a place to stay. There wasn’t one.

I ended up at Brother Francis to my horror. I then found out it is actually a wonderful place. They do everything they can to help people. There are counselors, mental health access, tolerance for chemically dependent people, and skill at managing mentally ill people. For an autistic person like myself it was difficult just because of all the people. Because of my CFIDS/ME and the policy that everyone has to leave during the day I got very ill within a few days from the dramatically increased physical activity(activity has to gradually be increased with CFIDS). I understand the reasons they have people leave and agree with them. They also have a program for those who would like to stay at the shelter during the day. Being Aspie I really wanted to go to the law library or UAA library anyway.  Also CFIDS causes immune system issues which makes being in crowded places not a good idea either. I was desperate and took a room in a boarding house which is not the kind of situation an Aspie would choose normally, but I needed to rest.

The landlord turned out to be yet another person who was out to use a group of people with little or no voice to exploit for their financial gain. She touted herself as an advocate for ex-inmates, bragging about being on some kind of rehabilitation board. She had this really strange list of rules and said she was very careful about who she let in the building and did not allow drugs. The place was filthy which at first I thought was the other people until they told me how bad it was when they got there. When I complained about the filth she claimed it was not her fault as the people in there before us were on crack(so much for pickiness about who she lets in). Yes, she was real careful, in fact one of the people I lived with who I have to say was not unlikeable, was on drugs clearly and struggling to get off of them. The landlord was a very bizarre woman who claimed to be a politician and an ex-boxer. She mentioned the ex-boxer history as a kind of threat to everyone, yet she was as out of shape as myself. When I asked about her and her boarding houses at agencies they all said they never recommended that anyone go there as she causes problems for everyone, yet the paperwork given out to low income people having a hard time finding a place to live, especially ex-inmates usually listed her boarding house. In fact almost every place listed was unacceptable as a safe or drug free environment.

One thing I have discovered is in Alaska landlords who rent to low income individuals do not have to follow the landlord tenant act nor any laws about basic standards for health and safety. I have had to endure mold, drug dealers, all night parties, filth, dangerous electrical wiring, poor insulation, ramshackle buildings, poor locks, and refusals to repair broken essentials. I had a landlord in Homer who sued me for eviction a couple days before Christmas because I gave her a notice which should have been legally sanctioned by the landlord tenant act to take care of problems or I was withholding the rent. They do as they please. This landlord told me it was OK that my neighbors were selling drugs because they were the legal kind. The police department in Homer backed her up too. She later drove up and down the street one day when I was holding a sign for Obama during an election and got the police to come twice to harass me. I called the police before it happened and reported they would be used to harass me. Those Barney Fifes fell right in line and cooperated with her. I continued to hold up my sign. The rules about where I could stand were changed twice while I stood there.

I lasted two weeks at that boarding house in Anchorage. The ex-boxer landlord’s friend had backed up her toilet in her apartment and the sewage water had run all over her apartment and her possessions. I had cleaned out our bathroom with bleach. The landlord let her use our washer, dryer, and sink to wash up her things from this mess. She did not wash them in bleach either. We were all freaked out. I called city officials and politicians in Anchorage and found out really nothing could be done as there is no health department other than for restaurants. I got into it with the landlord as I have a full understanding of the germ theory of disease and she told me I had to leave which I had already told the others I was doing as I have immune system problems. This was a dangerous situation, especially since the “sewage lady” as we called her was bringing boxes of sewage water soaked stuff into the living room for storage even though we told her not to. We found out the first morning after she went to the bathroom why she had the flood as she plugged our toilet. When I left the landlord told me she did not like me, I told her I took that as a good sign. She tried to extort money out of me and verbally tried to start an altercation which did not work. This woman has done some really awful things to a lot of people and I found some of those in politics in Anchorage are afraid of her. This is how she gets way with what she does.

I went back to Brother Francis as it was safer and cleaner there and told them there were a lot worse places to live than their shelter. If I as a person who has the ability to really understand how the systems work and had some money coming in every month could not find a decent place to live how are those who have been on the streets for years drinking and using going to have any hope? I wanted to stay in Anchorage for a lot of reasons, but had to leave to find a decent place to live. This is not to say housing is better for low income people in the rural areas because I believe it is even worse than Anchorage in that respect, it is the particular place I am living now that is fabulous. I and many others have the federal govenment to thank for it. Our landlord and the manager are also very good people and that makes a huge difference.

This hotel could be used as a facility to help get people stabilized. It is well documented that just getting a place to live decreases the amount alcoholics drink. Some may have to cut back so their behavior does not get them kicked out. They could have on site counseling and treatment. People could identify issues they may need help with. Residents could be assisted to obtain medication they need to be on and reminded or even assisted to take it. Those who are vulnerable on the streets can have a safe room to live in. Not drinking is the best situation, but getting people to drink less is better than nothing. Most addicts and alcoholics relapse about 12 or 13 times before they get sober. Relapse is not seen as a defeat because relapse is a part of the process of becoming sober. It is also very important to have support for recovery available at the same time someone is emotionally ready to receive it. Often people ask for help and are told they have to wait several months, that never works.

The Anchorage project would be modeled on a Seattle program that has dramatically lowered costs for services such as jail, detoxification and medical treatment among chronically homeless alcoholics.

A study published last April in The Journal of the American Medical Association detailed average savings of nearly $2,500 per person a month for those who moved into Seattle's 1811 Eastlake, compared with those on a wait list. And that's including the cost of the housing.

Coffey, who is on the mayor's homelessness team, said he became a supporter after reading the JAMA study. While the Seattle project does not require residents to stop drinking, many chose to drink less, the study found.

"Right now I'm so fed up with the circular, enabling treadmill that we're on that, hey, even if it didn't save this much money, even if it cost us the same amount of money, it would be a better solution," Coffey said.

For the hard-core street alcoholics, "what we're doing now is a total waste of time, money, energy, everything," Coffey said. "Take them to the drunk tank, sober 'em up, let them drink again. Boom boom. Around and around and around we go."

Another member of the homelessness team, Trevor Storrs, was part of an Anchorage group that toured the Seattle program in December. He said this kind of housing could have a big impact and is supported by the Anchorage Coalition on Homelessness, which he co-chairs.

"These individuals, when nobody cares about them, they are not going to care about themselves," Storrs said. Drinking almost becomes a survival tool, a way to deal with cold and hunger, aches and pains. (Emphasis added by me)

Fourteen homeless people died in Anchorage public parks, camps and on the city streets during 2009, an unprecedented number. That should convince everyone that something needs to change, Coffey said.

I think this project is a great idea and we know this kind of program has worked in Seattle. People bitch about people living in parks. This gets fifty of them out of the parks. Now they are bitching about them crossing the streets or the hotel being in Fairview. I have news for these people the inebriates are already in Fairview, you just don’t always see them. Cross walks can be installed if they aren’t already there. The homeless have to live somewhere and with the economy the way it is there are going to be a lot more homeless people. Anyone can become ill or loose their job through no fault of their own. Having pain has lead many people down the path of addiction to narcotics. I know it is hard for people to see they might be the next homeless person. I worked my butt off with health problems for years. I got sicker with the workplace bullying which caused PTSD. The stress flared my CFIDS up. I never thought in a million years I would end up homeless or have a felony charge and neither did anyone else. The real percentage of unemployed in this country is about 20% think where all those people are living and how many started drinking behind this issue. Part of the pain is having people think it is all your fault you are unemployed, you just had the wrong attitude, or just did not work hard enough, or you are lazy. The evidence shows the real reasons are simply the economy yet many continue to blame the unemployed for their inability to find a job.

This short documentary about "Housing First" which did not originate in the U.S. It is excellent at explaining why housing is so important for people trying to get their lives on track. This video is from Halifax, Nova Scotia where they have been using this type of program for a while.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the amazing post regarding the RuralCap/Housing First efforts.
A sane voice, someone who 'gets it'.

Again, thank you.