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How can one evict the homeless?
October 25, 2009 2:01 PM   Subscribe

After a spate of recent deaths, efforts to rehabilitate homeless chronic inebriates in Anchorage now include involuntary confinement. Other city-wide efforts include a mayoral decree that established homeless camps should be scattered.

In response to increased police activity and the absence of voluntary shelter options for inebriated homeless, John Martin mounted a one-man hunger strike to improve options for homeless in Anchorage (with particular concern for alcoholics), but was removed from his camp when he was found to be a registered sex offender.
posted by stinker (52 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm really starting to hate the phrase "registered sex offender" because, given the broad range of criminal convictions it denotes, I have no idea whether I'm supposed to be horrified or sceptical when I see it. Aren't there levels that can be specified, typically?
posted by fatbird at 2:04 PM on October 25, 2009


Broken cars we can fix. Broken TVs we can fix. But broken people? How do we fix those?
posted by Avenger at 2:12 PM on October 25, 2009


See what happens when the rouge Governor resigns? Everything's gone to hell...
posted by vhsiv at 2:18 PM on October 25, 2009


They are doing the same thing in Ann Arbor, in terms of breaking up homeless camps. There was a trend here for the homeless to make camp in the triangular sections of land between a road, a highway entrance ramp, and the highway (these usually were overgrown pieces of property nobody paid any attention to)...the city has been cutting out the underbrush, making the areas less isolated.
posted by HuronBob at 2:22 PM on October 25, 2009


Someone should found a country based on the idea that all humans have basic and inalienable rights.
posted by fuq at 2:25 PM on October 25, 2009 [33 favorites]


I don't get it fuq? Should we leave homeless people out in the cold to die? Is that freedom?

Guess so.
posted by Allan Gordon at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, I'd like to take back my snarky comment about rights. What rights do I even mean? The right to die in the street? It was a kneejerk responce to the words "registered sex offender." This is a more complicated problem that self-rightous aphorisms about "rights" will not help. After some further reading, maybe involuntary confinement is a better option. This is an issue that requires thoughtful scientific study and assessment, but probably there will only be bullshit politics.
posted by fuq at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Vancouver is doing round-ups too - coincidentally, just in time for the Olympics! Isn't that nice of them...
posted by mannequito at 2:36 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The whole of America sometimes seems to be Alex, Dim, Georgie and Pete, looking for a derelict to beat. We're not out to cure homelessness or substance abuse; we're out to make it a target for our boots.

Not all of us, I guess. Some just look away.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:37 PM on October 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm really starting to hate the phrase "registered sex offender" because, given the broad range of criminal convictions it denotes, I have no idea whether I'm supposed to be horrified or sceptical when I see it.

That's where the online registry comes in. You can search for the sex offender's name and find out what the perv was convicted of.

It's not difficult.
posted by jayder at 2:38 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


keep them in a home like we used to do, before the 1970's. they will be better cared for.
posted by billybobtoo at 2:38 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


jayder- It's not difficult. Which is why it's pretty easy for journalists to be explicit about what the person was convicted of, instead of using the blanket term "sex offender" as a bugaboo.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:52 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


In 2007, the NYTimes ran an article on a program in Seattle that gave homeless alcoholics low-cost, sliding scale housing without requiring them to quit drinking. Perhaps a program like that could work for Anchorage.
posted by homuncula at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Erg, woops. The second link.
posted by stinker at 3:06 PM on October 25, 2009


Also, I am equally frustrated by the nebulous "sex offender" categorization. Martin was convicted of "sexual abuse of a minor" which still leaves a lot unanswered.
posted by stinker at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2009


IMHO they should look at getting more EDARs into the system and work on a large area that they can heat and provide at least protection from the elements for those who are less fortunate.
posted by Talez at 3:22 PM on October 25, 2009


broken cars==call someone. Pay.It gets fixed. Cars? same thing. People ?Who pays for that and how simple is it...one day to repair, like a car or a tv?
posted by Postroad at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2009


Alcoholism is a disease. All the major medical associations (AMA, APA) agree on this. There's a biological component, as well as a mental one. They need help, and half-way houses do help many alcoholics and addicts. Yes, it costs taxpayers money to implement programs for addicts & alcoholics, but it's much less than chronic hospitalizations or incarceration.

I, too, have an issue with the "registered sex offender" category. In some places, streaking through town or public urination will get you on that list, which seems harsh. "Sex with a minor," however seems a more appropriate offense for the list, though it can mean (in some jurisdictions) sex between a 19yr old and a 17yr old...

The world is so much less black and white than when I was a little kid....
posted by mattmatt7 at 3:25 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The freedom to starve and freeze is a rather hollow one.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The freedom to starve and freeze is a rather hollow one.

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." - Anatole France
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:36 PM on October 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Absolutely. Talk of an unfunded mandate.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:39 PM on October 25, 2009


Alcoholism is a disease.

I think it might be more accurate to say that alcoholism is a medical condition. Alcoholism is no more a "disease" than bi-polar disorder - it's more of a mental health problem than anything, a subset of addiction, and most mental health issues aren't referred to using the traditional physiological medical framework. Not trying to split hairs here, though I have personally dealt with it and the terminology bugs me a bit. But it is a medical problem, and when you have homeless people who are alcoholics dying of exposure, then it becomes a public health problem. We know of humane ways to deal with the problem, though Alaska does have a big libertarian streak. Alaska has a long history of problems with alcoholism and addiction issues in general, and if they are going to encourage so much transient work with industries hiring seasonal workers, creating artificially high costs of living, and add to that the isolation of the area, the wide disparity in gender and the difficulties of family life, and you have a much greater need for mental health facilities and shelters in general, though this is not usually the direction Alaska goes.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:42 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've said it before and undoubtedly will again, Americans-in-general frankly suck when it comes to public health policy. From vaccinations to alcoholism there tends to be too much Horatio Alger-ism in the blood stream.
posted by edgeways at 3:58 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


My mother in law is the chair of Partners for Progress which started the wellness court in Anchorage for offenders whose crimes are related to their drug/alcohol addictions. So, they're doing more than just locking up drunks in Anchorage.
posted by vespabelle at 4:04 PM on October 25, 2009


fwiw krinklyfig, I think I understand what you are getting at, but most basic definitions of disease (eg: an impairment of health or a condition of abnormal functioning) seem to fit perfectly well with either alcoholism or bi-polar disorder, furthermore I don't think you can rightly say that mental illnesses are separate from physical illnesses/disability, a mental illness IS a physical illness/disability, it may not be as visible as a lost leg, but both has physiological components, just because one is more difficult to compensate for and describe does not make it non-physical.
posted by edgeways at 4:05 PM on October 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Vespabelle, your mother-in-law's efforts are laudable. (The link didn't work, but I know of the types of programs you're talking about.) Ironically, one of the problems that chronic inebriates face in terms of accessing such programs is that many of them don't actually have a criminal record.
posted by stinker at 4:15 PM on October 25, 2009


>See what happens when the rouge Governor resigns?

Reflexive LOLPalin aside, there is something of a connection. (Can't find the original source for this; I thought it was in Salon's series on Palin during the 2008 election...) Palin's predecessor as Wasilla mayor wanted to move the closing time for both bars and liquor stores in the town back from 5 AM to 2 AM, and the big liquor store in town helped fund her campaign.

In general, Alaska seems to be alcoholism prone, maybe from people self-medicating for SAD, maybe from boredom. A number of people seem to work part of the year and basically drink the winter away.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2009


I don't get it fuq? Should we leave homeless people out in the cold to die? Is that freedom?

I'd like to believe there exists a freedom to live somewhere in this country without having to pay someone else rent for the privilege. So much economic stress can be traced back to unlimited private property in land. Ground rent is like a water we are immersed in; being so acclimated to it we no longer see or sense it for what it really is.
posted by mokuba at 5:43 PM on October 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


You know, it is really sad, but we have made extreme poverty illegal in the united states, more or less.

Once you are poor enough you can't keep a residence, and all the shelters are full or a bad idea, where can you legally sleep?

Pretty much nowhere. Everything is no loitering, trespassing, park closed, etc. There is no legal place to sleep. Wouldn't that be fun.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 5:45 PM on October 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ah, my home town. Can't imagine why I haven't moved back yet.

There's an invisible vector of this conversation, which I believe many non-Alaskans won't grasp. In Anchorage, terms like alcoholic and drunk are also code for Native Alaskan. (This is similar to use of the word urban as code for African American in the lower 48.)

Any Alaskan discussion of "what we should do to help/move/fix alcoholics" must therefore be examined for racist content. Often when a white Alaskan sneers at drunks or alcoholics or the homeless, what they're really doing is Native-bashing.

It isn't always a racist conversation, obviously. For example, vespabelle's mother is obviously doing some very good work.
posted by ErikaB at 6:17 PM on October 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


A good percentage of Alaska's urban homeless are Native people, many Inuit. If you know the physiology of addiction for Arctic indigenous peoples, whose tribal cultures had no inebriants or intoxicants (nothing ferments or distills without something growing, and north of the Arctic circle, there is no pre-contact history of inebriant use for the obvious reason that there are almost no fruits or grains in the traditional diet, although I have had fermented whale meat, a delicacy, but you wouldn't want to get drunk on it) for thousands of years until just the last 100-200 years, you know that alcoholism might as well be a "disease" for the way it steamrolls through lives and communities.

It is not the same as the homeless/addict problem in other places.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:36 PM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't see ErikaB's comment before I posted this (forgot to refresh from earlier in the day).

She's exactly right.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:37 PM on October 25, 2009


For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska

Coming on PBS next month.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:39 PM on October 25, 2009


ErikaB raises a good point. "Drunk" (and such) is often a code word for natives in the northern parts of Canada, as well. I didn't realize that at first.

Often people's views on the homeless remind me of the "just world phenomonen".
posted by Her Most Serene Highness at 7:19 PM on October 25, 2009


Alcoholism is no more a "disease" than bi-polar disorder.

Chronic, progressive and fatal if not treated.

Sounds like a disease to me (and to the AMA, NIH, and WHO).

I don't get it fuq? Should we leave homeless people out in the cold to die? Is that freedom?

There is certainly a middle ground between leaving people out in the cold to die and forcibly detaining those who have committed no crime. This is America and the perception that we have a "right" to kill ourselves in stupid ways is pretty firmly entrenched.

Laws already exist to force treatment on those who are a danger to themselves or others. These comittments are generally limited to 72 hours allowing physicians to determine if further treatment is required. Then you need a few doctors, and a judge and lawyers. All that good stuff. As someone who has dealt with this system, I can tell you that it is not something taken lightly by anyone involved.

This isn't quite the same thing as locking someone up for a month because some cop or relative convinces a judge that the drunk guy on the corner is dangerous or suicidal.
posted by cedar at 8:20 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


fwiw krinklyfig, I think I understand what you are getting at, but most basic definitions of disease (eg: an impairment of health or a condition of abnormal functioning) seem to fit perfectly well with either alcoholism or bi-polar disorder

OK, but the problem is not how the medical establishment sees it, but rather how the campaign to bring the word into the public sphere has unintended consequences and carries a lot of baggage. I have personally come to prefer "medical condition," as it means the same thing and it lacks the victim baggage a lot of people attach to the word "disease."

a mental illness IS a physical illness/disability

Yes, but most people who are paralyzed due to an accident don't talk about having a disease.

In any event, I see what you're getting at, but I have a condition called chondromalacia patella. The entire time my doctor and I discussed it, he referred to it as a condition or a disorder, not a disease, though I suppose by the strictest definitions you provide above it might also be that, though I don't think anyone is going to call it that in everyday conversations.

I don't mean to belabor the point, but the use of the word "disease" is much more a political effort than anything else, meant to establish that alcoholism is not a personal failing but a medical problem. Unfortunately, it has also come to mean other things to other people, such as claiming the mantle of victimhood, so I'm making an effort not to use it, because it sort of distracts from the original intent a lot of the time.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:34 PM on October 25, 2009


Wikipedia says that a "disease or medical condition is an abnormal condition of an organism that impairs bodily functions, associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune diseases."

Of course, Wikipedia has no entry for either "mental disease" or "mental condition", preferring instead "mental disorder or illness". These are the two terms I've heard most often.
posted by Her Most Serene Highness at 8:56 PM on October 25, 2009


krinklyfig: "Unfortunately, it has also come to mean other things to other people, such as claiming the mantle of victimhood, so I'm making an effort not to use it, because it sort of distracts from the original intent a lot of the time."

I'm really not seeing your point about the "mantle of victimhood"
posted by kathrineg at 9:04 PM on October 25, 2009


I'm really not seeing your point about the "mantle of victimhood"

I agree. I'm curious about what you meant, because usually when I hear people talking about "victimhood," it's an effort to dismiss people who have actually been historically victimized by suggesting that they are trying to leverage power with that claim, which, apparently, no longer has any actual significance and can be ignored.

It doesn't sound as though that's how you meant it, but it is a loaded phrase in the US, so I am curious about what you did mean.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 PM on October 25, 2009


but the use of the word "disease" is much more a political effort than anything else, meant to establish that alcoholism is not a personal failing but a medical problem.

I am not an alcoholic but I know more than one. My experience has been that Al Anon and groups like them push the disease label not for political reasons but to indicate the level of effort required to combat the problem. Alcoholism is a physical "medical condition" just as much as it is a mental one. I have never, in my experiences with addiction, heard an addiction councilor or other health professional attempt to paint those they are attempting to help as a victim. In fact, most of the time I have heard it called a disease has been when they were attempting to explain the chronic nature of the addiction.

I don't understand your personal motivations in attacking the phrase, but wherever I've heard someone bring up the phrase "personal failing" in the past it's always been in an attempt to dismiss a person or class of persons. If you don't feel ethically bound to help people who are struggling, like the homeless, then I feel sorry for you. However, it is important to point out that to the alcoholic, whether it is a personal failing, a medical problem, or some mix of the two is completely irrelevant. All that matters to them is how to get fixed.
posted by napkin at 2:33 AM on October 26, 2009


krinklyfig: But it is a medical problem, and when you have homeless people who are alcoholics dying of exposure, then it becomes a public health problem.

Society is failing a group of vulnerable citizens. Shelter is a non-negotiable human need, and the provision of health coverage ought to be a basic public service goal.
posted by woodway at 5:10 AM on October 26, 2009


The issue here as I see it is the duration of detainment. There are currently laws in place that do allow for the involuntary commitment of homeless people who refuse to come in out of the cold. It's called a failure to care commitment and it can be approved by a county behavioral health department if an outreach worker can make a compelling case that the person in question is going to die from the elements if they are not committed. Typically involuntary commitments are only for people who are either an imminent threat to themselves or others, but in this case the failure to care element qualifies the person as a danger to themselves despite the fact that they may not be suicidal. These types of involuntary commitments are very hard to get, the burden of proof is very high. I have been involved in failure to care commitments previously and they required a lot of arguing back and forth with the county mental health delegate before he became comfortable approving the order.

However, that only approves a warrant to be issued holding the person in question for 72 hours of observation. At that point, the patient goes to mental health court and a petitioner -- a family member, the psychiatrist, the social worker engaged with the person in the community -- can ask the judge for the order to be extended but only for a few days. Then it goes back to court, a few days later back to court, etc. The system is set up this way to prevent people from getting lost in the system and being held against their will for extended periods of time.

So a thirty day commitment right out of the gate is like a really fucking long commitment compared to what has been the standard. I guess the difference is that the person is being held in an inpatient drug and alcohol facility which generally has a higher level of freedom and better amenities than a locked psych ward. Does that make it okay to hold someone against their will for 30 days instead of 72 hours? I don't really have an answer to that.

There are programs like the drug court I work for that stipulate treatment with abstinence and outpatient attendance enforced by court sanction and threat of termination from the program resulting in jail time. But these are programs voluntarily engaged by participants through plea bargain. The choice between treatment or a hard jail sentence might not seem like much of a choice, but it is at least some choice, whereas this program in Alaska offers no alternative to detainment at all.
posted by The Straightener at 6:53 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Disease or no, Bi-Polar can be a very serious medical condition. Anyone that thinks otherwise needs to read some statistics on associated mortality.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2009


Alcoholism is a disease.

Dammit, Otto—you have lupus.
posted by oaf at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2009


I have a friend who is a public defender in Anchorage. I shall speak to her and get back to this thread. She has told me previously that the vast majority of the crimes committed in Alaska are alcohol related.
posted by TomMelee at 8:12 AM on October 26, 2009


The Straightener - I wonder how much of the change is due to climate differences. I know that in Boston at least, there are only a few nights a year where it is so cold outside that the chances of surviving outside are slim. I imagine that it is the same in Philidelphia, but in Alaska those periods probably last much longer, and it would seriously clog up the system on a much larger scale than in the lower 48. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, as there is a large possibility for abuse.
posted by fermezporte at 9:31 AM on October 26, 2009


From the second link:

Under the ordinance, people get 12 hours notice to move out, and if they don't, their property is considered abandoned and carted away.

This seems like it's asking for people to die of exposure. Since when has twelve hours been enough time to move out of your home and find a new one?
posted by Dr. Send at 10:06 AM on October 26, 2009


I understand where you're coming from and I don't think it's necessarily crazy for a city like Anchorage to have exceptional practices considering its climate but temperature isn't a criteria a petitioner can use to extend an involuntary commitment, whether or not someone is held any longer than 72 hours is supposed to be strictly based on clinical information, so it's just weird to think that air temperature would be the guiding factor in a decision like involuntarily commiting someone to a treatment facility. I could see something like this being an effective tool to leverage the homeless to voluntarily move into permanent subsidized housing with no sobriety requirements, i.e., get into a harm reduction oriented housing first program that includes case management services or spend the coldest part of the winter in rehab so the state doesn't have to pay for your toes to be amputated or your extended hospital stay when you get pnuemonia. Given that choice, guys would come in out of the cold, and if they didn't at least they would be detained in some supportive environment and not freezing to death or sitting in jail. But there's no choice here, and permanent supportive housing doesn't seem to exist in ample enough supply Anchorage yet.

What we've learned through drug courts and other alternative courts like DUI courts and Intermediate Punishment is that the criminal justice system can very effectively muscle people into treatment, and that they do benefit from the treatment they receive. So the myth that drug and alcohol treatment only works for people who are "ready for it" or have "bottomed out" looks to be false. But the people in question here haven't committed any crimes, and so this feels to me like the court may be using too heavy a hand. I would be curious to see what impact the program has if they continue it. Basically, even though I'm not totally comfortable with it, does it work?
posted by The Straightener at 10:25 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having thought it over for a while, I think I'm with The Straightener on this one. (Although I admit, I was briefly all, "Oh yeah now they're going to imprison people on charges of being Native.")

A mandatory 30 day commitment to a psychiatric institute for passing out drunk on the sidewalk may seem a little extreme. But when you think about the surrounding circumstances, committing someone under the rubric of "danger to self" is not so implausible.

If anyone can be classified as a "danger to self," it's someone who falls asleep on the sidewalk in Anchorage, where low temps fall below freezing an average of seven months per year. And isn't that what a publicly-funded psych ward is for?

What is alcoholism anyway, but a very slow and expensive form of suicide?
posted by ErikaB at 4:22 PM on October 26, 2009


What we've learned through drug courts and other alternative courts like DUI courts and Intermediate Punishment is that the criminal justice system can very effectively muscle people into treatment, and that they do benefit from the treatment they receive.

That's really interesting. I've heard similar claims in other settings, but I trust your opinion more, The Straightener. This sounds like it's phrased in terms of DUI-type recklessness, but would that be an argument in favor of, say, narcotics prohibition so long as there are more/better treatment alternatives?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:26 AM on October 27, 2009


I am not an alcoholic but I know more than one. My experience has been that Al Anon and groups like them push the disease label not for political reasons but to indicate the level of effort required to combat the problem.

That is not a medical term, then. That's really what I was talking about. People like to trot out the conceptual similarities, but the word is used more for its effect than for its precision. That's fine, but I'm not interested in promoting a point of view through fuzzy terminology, because it confuses the issue. Yes, it's difficult to combat the problem. Having to explain why alcoholism can be considered a disease specifically has resulted in a lot of explanation, and I'm not sure it's really a positive effect overall.

I think the mantle of victimhood might be more apparent for someone who has been through AA or similar programs, as I have. I have nothing against them, as it does help people, but there is something to be said for different approaches, which all have about the same level of success.

What is alcoholism anyway, but a very slow and expensive form of suicide?

It's self-destructive, but people who are alcoholics aren't necessarily trying to kill themselves with booze. I have heard that line many times, and there is some truth to it, but it's more accurate to say people drink for a lot of reasons. If you keep drinking to the detriment of your health, yeah, it will kill you eventually.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:55 PM on October 29, 2009


What we've learned through drug courts and other alternative courts like DUI courts and Intermediate Punishment is that the criminal justice system can very effectively muscle people into treatment, and that they do benefit from the treatment they receive. So the myth that drug and alcohol treatment only works for people who are "ready for it" or have "bottomed out" looks to be false.

You can't be convinced to change without being willing to change. You cannot force someone to become a recovering alcoholic. You can only offer them the option. While it may be true that mandated treatment offers more success than no treatment options, you still cannot bring about a spiritual change in someone if they're not willing to go through with it. I do think these options should be much more widely available, and we should encourage treatment rather than punishment for people with substance abuse problems. However, most of these courts will send someone to AA/NA whether that's really what would be best for them, and whether that AA chapter is particularly churchy. For some people this becomes an issue of court-mandated religion.

I remember seeing the court-mandated people come to my local AA meeting. Always different faces each time. One or two would come back, but the vast majority we'd never see again.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2009


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