Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics

3:19 PM, Feb 23, 2011   |    comments
  • Home gives chronic alcoholics place to live, drink
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Part II: Home for chronic alcoholics
  • Home gives chronic alcoholics place to live, drink
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- St. Anthony Residence in St. Paul is not a treatment center and it's nothing like going to detox. In fact, many of the men who live at St. Anthony are drinking themselves to death.

The St. Paul apartment building is a so-called wet house, a place for chronic alcoholics, many in the final stages of their addiction, to live out the rest of their lives, drunk if they choose to.

The facility is run by Catholic Charities, an organization that offers many programs to help the metro's homeless population. The folks at Catholic Charities call St. Anthony Residence 'supportive housing.'

The men are not allowed to drink inside the building, but can bring their alcohol out to a patio area behind the building.

Bill Hockenberger manages St. Anthony Residence for Catholic Charities, a place he has turned into a home for these lifelong drinkers.

"By the time they move in, they pretty much have had their last fight," says Hockenberger.

Most of the residents at St. Anthony residence can't and won't kick their addiction. They've been through treatment, detox, and even prison, but nothing has worked to make them sober.

At St. Anthony Residence, they get to drink all they want, but must still follow Hockenberger's rules: check alcohol in at the front desk, keep the place clean, and be respectful.

"I feel when they walk through the doors here, this is their house and need to feel safe," says Hockenberger.

Tracy Berglund is director of housing and emergency services for Catholic Charities, which runs many programs for the homeless. And most of these men, before they came here, were homeless.

"We are meeting people where they are at, and for late stage alcoholics it is often in a very dark place," says Berglund. "It's a real problem for the community when there are people inebriated on the streets or panhandling."

And it's expensive. Berglund says a homeless alcoholic might cost the public a million dollars over his or her lifetime.

Among the costs include the following: a hundred bucks for each night in jail, $200 for every trip to detox, close to a $1000 for an emergency room visit.

It costs $48 per day to house these men at St. Anthony. At $48 a day, the cost is about a million dollars a year to house 60 residents at St. Anthony. There are four so-called wethouses in Minnesota and two of them are run by Catholic Charities.

But you're still paying for some of it.

The city of St. Paul owns the building that houses St. Anthony Residence. Ramsey County pays operating expenses and Catholic Charities provides services for the residents.

The organization runs another facility, Glenwood House in Minneapolis, with a similar public-private funding structure.

"It is designed to keep the residents and clients here off of the streets, off of public places, out of your front yard," says Hockenberger.

But is this the right approach? Allowing chronic alcoholics what is, in part, a place to drink is a difficult idea for many.

William Moyers is president of foundation relations for Hazelden treatment centers. He has described wet houses as places of death and despair, and to some extent they are. But even Moyers says they may have a role to play.

"This is not a wet or dry issue...Addiction is a chronic illness and sadly not everybody makes it," says Moyers. "At the end of the day what really counts is that the addict or alcoholic is treated with dignity and respect..Is it enabling? I don't know if it is enabling as much as giving up."

"I've never given up on any of the residents here because they minute you do, they'll turn around and fool you," says Hockenberger.

Despite the extreme addiction, each St. Anthony resident can get treatment if he wants. In fact, three to five percent of St. Anthony residents eventually get sober.

That's what Len Schlicht hopes for. He's an alcoholic who used to live in homeless shelters. Today, instead of looking for a place to sleep, he spends a good part of the day online, looking for education opportunities and jobs.

"I don't plan on dying here, but to each his own. For some people who absolutely cannot make it out in society, this place is a literal God send to them because they wouldn't make it. It would be a matter of life and death for some of the residents here," says Schlicht.

Perhaps what's most striking at St. Anthony house are the many moments of quiet. All of the men don't drink all of the time. They often recall the jobs they once had, the families they don't see enough and life before addiction.

And guys like Bill Hockenberger say even these men, who seem to have lost everything to alcoholism, deserve dignity and compassion. Some may die at St. Anthony Residence, but they go there to live.

"The clients here, the residents, they didn't ask to be born this way - this is a picture of life's other side," says Bill.


(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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