Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Where to house chronic inebriates? 

Psycmeister relates an experience he had in working here in Stearns County on a possible home for chronic inebriates (a zoning variance for such a place was just turned down by the city):
I had encountered this issue several years ago as a member of the Stearns County Human Services Advisory Committee, where I vehemently voiced opposition to such a facility. As it was presented, the facility would house chronic inebriates, and would in fact, be a "wet house" where chronic inebriates would be allowed to continue to consume alcohol while in its environs. Janet Reigstad, Community Supports Division Director, envisioned a facility whereby the "...sewer grates would be enlarged" so as to be able to better accommodate the vomitus that would likely result from the alcohol consumed by residents. She also stated that the plans were to allow the chronic inebriate a safe place to go, as well as to give each resident an $80 per week stipend to spend as he or she wishes, including to buy more booze. She went on to paint what could only be termed as a romanticized version of such a facility in the Twin Cities region, where she described same as a "spiritual place," where many chronic inebriates were allowed, in effect, to drink themselves to death. When asked about a treatment component, she replied that there was no treatment component (shades of this post by the Night Writer), since the residents, by definition, would be beyond hope of saving. In effect, it would be "Kervorkian Light", allowing drunks to commit suicide by allowing them to continue to consume their "poison of choice."
It's worth noting that the city council did not say we shouldn't have such a place; the decision was a NIMBY vote for a piece of land too close to an adjacent city. Mayor Ellenbecker was reported to have been "visibly upset" and that the law presumes the home can be built "unless they could demonstrate a negative effect to the neighborhood that will be its home". But until someone demonstrates to me that the home has a provision that it is "dry", there is a negative effect on any neighborhood in which this is built. This is a city, for criminy sakes, that heavily regulates where bars can go because of possible disturbances from drunks. But a home to house drunks can't have its location regulated?

I'm tempted to side with the family that wants to build the wet house as a believer in property rights, but what do these mean in this case in the post-Kelo world? It seems that the city has sufficient police power to stop the building if it wished to; any lawyer worth his retainer can find enough "negative effects to the neighborhood" to stop this if the political will is there.