By: Bethany Winkel
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How Seattle Treats Drug Addicts and Alcoholics
Seattle has a relatively new program that changes the way the city and law enforcement deal with law-breaking drug addicts and alcoholics, and it is creating a stir in cities across the country. The program, which was created four years ago, takes addicts off of the streets where they commit crimes to get food, shelter, or drugs, and provides them with basic essentials for living. The program is called LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), and in many ways it is like programs in large cities across America. Those struggling with addiction who are caught up in a cycle of jail, living on the streets, committing crimes, and back in jail, often need some sort of intervention to help them break that cycle. LEAD connects people in need with housing, job training, health care, and basic life needs.
However, unlike many other programs out there, LEAD, which this year serves 203 people, does not require participants to stop using drugs or alcohol. The program does not require abstinence in order to participate, and it has no deadline or time limit for the person to get their act together.
“The stats are so robust, which took me by surprise,” said Susan Collins, a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studied the LEAD program. “The offenders were basically committing crimes of homelessness, they’re basically just [doing enough petty crime] to survive. This program is trying to break the jail-to-street-to-jail cycle. But, it’s not like drug court, it doesn’t involve abstinence, and doesn’t require people to stop using substances.”
While many find this program surprising, advocates for the program are confident that it works and that they are making strides with the people they seek to help. One social worker put it this way: “Instead of losing all of the gains and momentum a client has made, it seems like a better use of resources to stick with someone. Not having a back door doesn’t mean you’d have to narrow the entry path.”
What do you think? Is Seattle on the right track to making a real change in their city, or should more be required of those who are in the program? Read the full story here and then let us know your thoughts.