Homeless and addicted: On the street or off?

In a two-part series, the Portland Tribune looks at the new Bud Clark Commons, a $47-million government-funded building that will provide housing for 130 of Portland’s most vulnerable homeless men and women.  The first article provides an overview of the project and raises certain concerns.

In the second article, the Tribune tackles the question of “wet” versus “dry” housing — should Bud Clark Commons residents be allowed to use alcohol and illegal drugs without consequences?

Eric Bauer, executive director of Portland Rescue Mission, is attributed in the article:

Tribune Photo: 
Christopher Onstott

On a daily basis, Eric Bauer sees as many homeless, addicted people as anybody in Portland as executive director of the Portland Rescue Mission in Old Town. Bauer says wet housing is necessary and humane for what he estimates might be 30 percent of the homeless. Those include the homeless with severe mental illness, chronic diseases and people older than 60. 

The rest, Bauer says, have a better chance at recovery if they are in buildings where they have to try, and can’t be seduced by buildings where they don’t have to. 

“Recovery is hard work,” Bauer says. “There are going to be moments when you say you can’t do this. If free wet housing is available to you immediately, you’re going to take it at some point. 

Bauer says that the idea of Housing First has changed from when it was first proposed locally, when the idea of harm reduction prevailed. 

“When this first came out, it was the 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness and every city had a few guys or gals who were million-dollar guys. The argument was a solid argument for the million-dollar wonders but they aren’t the norm,” Bauer says.

For clarification, neither Eric Bauer nor Portland Rescue Mission stand in favor of wet housing.  The reference, “Bauer says wet housing is necessary and humane…” should have more accurately stated, “Bauer says subsidized housing is preferred and humane…”

He adds that subsidized housing and the “wet vs. dry” issue is complex. The core question is, should taxpayer dollars provide permanent subsidized housing, and if so, to whom?  Then the discussion can lead to “wet vs. dry,” and, within that context, where illegal drug use should fall.

As the article stated, executive directors of faith-based and secular organizations with significant experience in addictions recovery agree that dry housing yields much better outcomes for people walking through the challenging journey of recovery.

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