Back in 2002 the city tried to fight chronic street alcoholics by restricting the sale of certain malt liquors and fortified wines in the downtown area. And as one might expect, that ended up pushing the problem out into other neighborhoods, especially Capitol Hill, where the cheap booze was still available.
So at the end of 2006 the area for the ban was enlarged to include Capitol Hill, the University District, and most of the CD (the map was carefully drawn to include every convenience store in our neighborhood). And now, 18 months later, we’ve got the first report on how it’s working: hardly at all.
The ban was placed on specific brands of drinks such as Night Train and Colt 45, and so the businesses have just gone and rebranded the same drinks to avoid the ban. And the alcoholics, not caring too much about brand loyalty, have made the switch.
And here at CDN World Headquarters, we can attest to its failure. One of the many things we hear on the scanner each day is the multiple calls for the detox van to come and pick people up and take them to Harborview. It goes on that way all day long, and the cost to all of us must be enormous.
The whole effort seems misguided to me. Businesses will always figure out a way to get around the rules to maintain their revenue streams, and chronic alcoholics aren’t going to decide to get cleaned up just because their favorite drink is no longer available at the convenience store.
The one thing that has been effective is the housing for homeless drunks that the county built over near Denny Way & I-5. It was very controversial when it started because it allows homeless alcoholics to have a small place to live and still keep drinking. But a study earlier this year showed that it saves money through cutting trips to the hospital and the county jail. And it provides stability and a support network that encourages the alcoholics to work on their addiction.
Another problem is that convenience stores are often very bad neighbors. Most of their margins come from their liquor sales, and they actively court and depend on an anti-social subset of society to keep their businesses afloat. So giving communities more tools to encourage good behavior from the stores would be very helpful.
So how about this: let’s put a big new tax on booze sales in convenience stores, and apply the revenue from that to build more housing and treatment options for people with chronic drinking problems. Then maybe we can get some real results for our neighborhoods and help people at the same time.
h/t to Andrew for the links