Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't Let the Facts Interfere with Your Press Release

Gold-plated fire hydrant photoWednesday's Star Tribune included a well-written, thorough story by Kevin Duchschere, titled "Not Always Sober, but Safe."

Basically, Duchschere took what was intended to be a politician's clever press release, belittling a nonprofit program the politician thinks is a waste of taxpayers' money, and looked into the program in a very human and intelligent way, seeking expert assessment of the program's effectiveness. Not surprisingly, he found that the politician's one-sided lampoon was empty and missed the point of the work done by the nonprofit organization.

Here are the details. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson hands out a sarcastic award, called the Golden Hydrant (remember William Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award? It's kind of like that.) He recently gave the hydrant to Anishinabe Wakiagun, a residence for homeless, alcoholic Native American men and women.

Why? Because the residence doesn't require the residents to be sober as a condition of their housing.

If you looked only at the surface, Johnson's award might seem reasonable. But Duchshere talked to a number of people who live in the house and found that, not only does it save the taxpayers money on police, emergency room trips, and detox visits, it has actually saved some of their lives. And in the process of meeting them where they are, the home has helped move them toward or all the way to sobriety over time.

As the story said,

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)...indicates that wet houses result in less drinking and save money by reducing the high costs of detoxification treatment, medical services and jail.
How much does the house cost Hennepin County each year? $39,000. How much does it save? Approximately $500,000.

Mike Goze, the executive director of Wakiagun's parent organization, American Indian Development Corp., sees the financial savings as a secondary benefit:
The primary goal, he said, is to provide a better quality of life and a safe place to live. A 12-step program generally won't help a chronic alcoholic, he said, but Wakiagun residents often increase their level of sobriety despite the fact that they're free to drink....

A detox study done last year at Wakiagun found that a number of residents reduced their trips to detox by 80 percent while living at the home.
Residents are allowed to drink in their rooms or away from the residence, but not in the public areas of the home. Wakiagun offers activities to attract residents to social settings that aren't centered around drinking.
In the JAMA study... University of Washington public health researchers monitored 95 homeless chronic alcoholics before and after they moved into a wet house, and compared them with 39 others waiting to get in.

Before the wet house, the median cost of each of the 95 was $4,000 a month. After a year in the wet house the cost per person dropped to $960, mostly for housing.
Once again, this story reminds me that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Thanks to Kevin Duchshere for taking the time to look into the facts.

Note: I can't link to the Star Tribune story, because for some reason it's not on their site. Much of the story is quoted on Johnson's website, accompanying his attempt to justify his remarks and point of view.

1 comment:

elena said...

Thank you so much for this, for the points made in your post and the link to Kevin Duchschere's fine piece of writing. Mocking the program, without investigating, is just an easy way to pretend superiority: cheap laughs at the expense of understanding the challenging good work being done.