Study: Street alcoholics drinking less after moving to Karluk Manor

Bill Roth

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

Homeless alcoholics began drinking less and making fewer emergency room visits within a year of moving into Alaska’s first “Housing First” home in Anchorage, university researchers have found.

The Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage presented those early findings this week at an annual conference on housing and homelessness in Anchorage. They found:

-- Among Karluk Manor residents interviewed, the number of people drinking every day dropped by half from 71 percent to 36 percent.

-- The rate of dental problems, head trauma, cuts and other injuries declined. 

-- Emergency room visits dropped, but residents began getting more drug prescriptions. They visited the dentist more often and made more trips to behavioral health offices. 

"They are starting to begin to talk about the future more and their goals," said Karluk Manor spokeswoman Melinda Freemon. "Whereas when you're in survival mode and you're living in the streets, your focus is completely on where you’re going to sleep and the food you’re going to eat.”

Researchers interviewed about 45 Karluk Manor residents before or just after they moved into the housing, and have so far completed 20 one-year follow-up interviews. The research is incomplete and part of an ongoing effort to monitor residents’ health and use of social services.

Housing First is the name for a strategy for improving the quality of life for -- and reducing problems caused by -- street alcoholics. Inebriates are given permanent long-term housing where they can continue drinking if they choose but are offered help getting sober. 

The early university findings mirror studies performed at other housing first residences around the country, said Institute Director David Driscoll. More study is needed to declare any trends.

In addition to Karluk Manor, a former hotel in Fairview, the study also targets a year-old Housing First complex in Fairbanks run by the Tanana Chief Conference. The Institute aims to show whether the residents cost the public less money, in the form of hospital visits, police calls and court expenses, although those findings are six months to a year away.