20 Jan 2012

Study shows wet houses can moderate drinking

7:55 am on 20 January 2012

An American study which suggests homeless people should be allowed to drink alcohol in night shelters is fuelling calls to establish wet houses in New Zealand.

The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found homeless people who stayed in wet houses, where alcohol is allowed, cut their intake by half.

The Washington University study followed 60 homeless people at a wet house in Seattle for two years.

Lead author Assistant Professor Susan Collins says many homeless people are dependent on alcohol and refuse to stay in shelters which have an abstinence policy, but once that barrier is taken away they moderate their drinking.

The director of New Zealand's National Addiction Centre, Professor Doug Sellman, was struck by the comments of the people in the study.

"The people said they no longer have to drink as heavy to keep warm, to put themselves to sleep or to forget about the fact that they were homeless.

"This self-medication with very heavy drinking didn't occur when you gave people some semblance of normality in terms of a place to live."

The head of the Wellington Night Shelter, Mike Leon, says a bid to set up a wet house in 2009 fell apart in the face of opposition from the community.