Exploring the Housing First model at Seattle’s 1811 Eastlake

By Dave Pippin

On Tuesday, 23 June, street paper delegates visited an innovative – and controversial – Housing First program in Seattle, 1811 Eastlake. Dave Pippin reports for INSP about the program’s different approach to supporting formerly homeless men and women with chronic alcohol addiction.

1811 Eastlake-Housing First listening to Danel Malone (deputy director of DESC)
Street paper delegates listening to Daniel Malone (deputy director of DESC) during theor visit to 1811 Eastlake.

Given the controversy surrounding 1811 Eastlake, a Housing First program that opened in Seattle in 2005, you wouldn’t think that the first question asked by delegate on the study visit of the INSP Summit would be this—“How do you convince people to come here?”

According to deputy director, Daniel Malone, King County prepares a list of individuals that the Department of Emergency Service Center (DESC), which runs 1811 Eastlake, uses to target candidates for housing. The controversial aspect of the program is that residents are allowed to make decisions about their own lives, and a lot of time one of those decisions is to drink a warm 16 ounce can of light beer in their home.

Using taxpayer money to house people without requiring treatment or sobriety runs counter to notions that someone needs to hit rock bottom before they change their lives around, and that anything short of just don’t do it enables the alcohol-involved.

It’s in part due to the notoriety gained by news reports about 1811 Eastlake that DESC was able to secure a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to partner with the Addictive Behaviors Research Center of the University of Washington to evaluate the program at 1811. What they found was that providing housing without requiring treatment or sobriety significantly saved costs compared to letting the population remain homeless. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and can be viewed here.

group photo 1811 Eastlake Housing First
#INSP2015 street paper delegates visit Seattle’s 1811 Eastlake.

Groundbreaking research for the innovative program at 1811 Eastlake was done in Seattle during the 60s. James Spradley applied ethnographic methods to his study of skid row residents. At the time public intoxication was still a crime. His argument in You Owe Yourself a Drunk (1970) was that the more a person is arrested, the more likely it is that he’ll be rearrested. Because over 50 percent of police arrests at the time were related to public intoxication, it’s easy to see why the Seattle Police Department was one of the early proponents of 1811 Eastlake. It was the support of the police and the Downtown Seattle business community that helped change public opinion on the project.

Housing First facilities exist all over the U.S., and the delegates representing Megaphone, spoke about a similar facility in Vancouver, British Columbia — Station Street. There the housing authority not only manages alcohol consumption, but also supplies it. This practice was going beyond harm reduction for one of the delegates. As a person in recovery himself, he was also challenged by Malone’s description of the “spell” that Americans fall under with regard to traditional notions of sobriety promoted by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

After our hour-long conversation, Daniel Malone took the delegates from the Global Street Paper Summit on a tour of the facility, including a peek into the home of one of the residents. Surprised by large number of guests awaiting entrance into his apartment, the resident listened to Daniel explain that folks had traveled from all over the world to attend a street paper conference and tour 1811. Gary proudly replied, “You’re welcome! I like worldly people.”

Follow #INSP2015 to find out more about what’s been going on during our Global Street Paper Summit.