San Francisco invests in homeless drunks circa 1950

Article from Newcastle Morning Herald, Australia, Saturday, December 29, 1950 courtesy of the Australian National Archives

scanned OCR text followed by PDF scan

Also related is a brand new article from Mark Ellinger on the history of 6th Street going back to the 1950's which is only a few blocks away

U.S. City Invests In Drunks
By a Special A.A.P. Correspondent in San Francisco.

San Francisco authorities have decided that by investing 50,000 dollars (£22,321) in an
experimental clinic for the reformation of habitual drunks, they can reform about 42 per cent
and save money. Removing the case load from the shoulders of the Police Department,' the Courts and the goalkeepers-all financed with municipal tax funds-could save about 700,000 dollars (£312,449) a year. if the "pilot" rehabilitation centre were placed on a mass-production basis.'San Francisco has a regular problem of caring for drunks.

The city's "skid row" section,'on Howard-street, between Fifth and Third Streets, has been described as the worst in the nation. The majority of the city's 46,000 drunk arrests a year are made in that area crowded with cheap flophouses, cheap wine shops, cheap restaurants and homeless men.

TO handle these cases the city spends about $700,000 dollars
(£A758,877) a year, according to the Police Department. This includes not only the police
pick-up and delivery service, but jail housing and Court costs. Under the old system the drunk
appeared in Court, was given a jail sentence, which the taxpayers financed, or received a suspended
sentence and was released. The Assistant District Attorney (Mr. Emmet Daly), more concerned with the humanitarian aspects of the problem than the taxpayer's pocket, decided a good number of individuals involved could be salvaged if the system for handling drunks were changed.

The city' supervisors were induced to invest in an experimental rehabilitation centre that was established at the county level.The understanding was that if the experiment were not successful
in the way of reformed drunks, the whole project would be forgotten. The supervisors agreed that if 10 per cent. of the patients stopped substantial drinking after the treatment, more money would be made available for expansion of the work.

The first year of operation showed that 42 per cent of the voluntary subjects for the experiment had
ceased to bother the police with their drinking. There is nothing startling about the methods used at the experimental centre. Some principles of medical science and considerable common sense are put together to make a reasonably successful formula for tile rehabilitation of an alcoholic. The habitual drunk who wants to take the clinical cure first pleads "Guilty" to the charge of drunkenness. The judge then asks him if he wishes to serve his sentence in a jail cell or as a patient of the clinic. The drunk cannot be forced to become a patient. The doctors and social workers in charge of the programme do not wish the treatment to be mandatory.

They believe an essential element of their cure is the willingness of the 'patient to cooperate and have a desire to, "get off the junk." He must be willing to help himself. If the individual chooses the clinic he is given a 30-day sentence. The length of sentence is important. The contact is accomplished through what is described as sympathetic clinical searching out
of anxieties that stampede the patient to the bottle.'

None of it resembles the scolding of it distraught wife who is burdened with a drinking husband.
the contact programme also uses the facilities of tile municipal Health Department, directed by Dr. J. C. Geiger. There are mental experts on the staff as well its doctors who deal with physical disease. In some cases it has been disclosed that the drunks are drunkards for a physical reason-they are epileptics, for example. Sometimes the drunk is merely lonely, and the only place he could find companions was in a saloon or in a doorway drinking cheap sherry.

These individuals are inducted into alcoholics anonymous the fraternity of drunks who have reformed.
ABOUT 36-per cent. are still drinking, but 21 per cent. are unaccounted for. The mere fact that they are gone is a token that they have made good on their. wish-to get away from their skid-row ties and start out fresh, and sober, somewhere else. 'While the percentage figure is interesting,' it is "meaningless unless the base statistic is quoted.

In this case,'the experimental clinic handled' 265 patients in a one-year trial. The patients spent an average of 21 days taking the the cure and the number was limited by the physical capacity of the
clinic-25 patients at a time. But Daly is confident he can sell a mass-production programme and cut down the unit cost. He wants to use a vacated building, an old juvenile detention home, or the clinic and establish an out patient clinic which would handle volunteer cases of non-arrested drunks.
"This clinic would more than double the-clinic case load-without increasing the cost," Daly said,
"and it would save the taxpayers a lot of money." Article134391035.5 San.francisco.drunks.1950 by Jeff Webb

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