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Friday, January 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

The wrong haven for city's drunks

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Many things might be done in regard to habitual street drunks in Seattle other than to build them an apartment house where they can continue to drink.

Yet, that is what the city of Seattle plans to do at 1811 Eastlake Ave., just south of Denny Way and west of Interstate 5. The ground is cleared, the permit is issued. City, county and state money (but not yet federal money) is in hand for a four-story building to house 75 chronic inebriates. The cost is $11 million, or $147,000 per tenant.

Advocates argue that it is a smart way to spend taxpayer money because the public pays even more for treating drunks at emergency rooms. Advocates argue that it is better for drunks to sleep in private rooms rather than on park benches and in doorways, and for them to be where they can ask for a social worker. But there are problems with this.

First, there will be the problem of managing 75 of them together. Second, there will be an effect on the neighbors, including the Marriott-owned hotel next door and the nearby office buildings and stores. Third, the notion that there are free or nearly free apartments in Seattle will encourage other cities' street drunks to come here. A building for 75 will not be enough. Another such building will be demanded, and another.

Most of all, the whole idea of this building insults the sense of justice of the average citizen, who has paid for his housing through his hard work.

A susceptibility to alcohol may be inherited, and in that sense street drunks are suffering from a disease for which they need help. But the behavior associated with street drunks also involves choices and is not a disease. The very way this apartment house is planned — with social workers available if the tenants ask for them — reads like a comfy ride for bad behavior.

By all means, let's deal with drunkenness as a disease, but let's not turn the city's neighborhoods into havens for anti-social behavior.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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