A new study finds that homeless shelters that allow alcoholic residents to continue to drink alcohol can save taxpayers money and still facilitate declines in alcohol consumption.
Reuters reported March 31 that the study from Mary Larimer of the University of Washington and colleagues found that homeless alcoholics admitted to shelters without being forced to quit drinking or enter into treatment were more likely to stay out of jail and emergency rooms than those on shelter waiting lists.
Researchers estimated that public costs related to the 95 individuals enrolled in a Seattle program called Housing First were reduced by more than $4 million during the yearlong study period.
Before getting housing, study participants were racking up an average of $4,000 each per month in jail, detox, hospital, and other services; that figure fell to $1,492 after six months in the program and $958 after a year, the study found. Residency at Housing First costs $1,120 per person per month, including meals and housing.
“These benefits increase over time and they are possible without requiring that participants stop drinking,” Larimer said. “And yet, the longer the participants stay in the housing program, the less they drink.” Housing First residents’ drinking decreased from a median of 15.7 drinks daily at the start of the study to 14 after six months and 10 after a year.
The research was published in the April 1, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.