Should alcohol be allowed to be consumed within Maryland's homeless shelters?
That question is being debated in the wake of the death of a homeless man who died while allegedly intoxicated at a shelter in Alaska on New Year’s Day.
According to an article by the Associated Press, it is believed that John Kort died in the Karluk Manor homeless shelter in Anchorage after passing out after he took a mixture of alcohol and pills.
The news of Kort’s death has since sparked a nationwide conversation over the idea of “wet shelters,” or shelters like the Karluk Manor that don’t have a policy against drinking on premises.
According to an article in the Atlantic, which includes opinions both for and against the idea of “wet shelters," Karluk is part of a "housing first" movement for the homeless that debuted in 2005.
Opponents of the “wet shelter” movement have said that allowing alcohol consumption in a shelter is akin to "aiding and abetting a person’s self-destruction." Meanwhile, proponents have claimed that it’s easier for a homeless person to get sober inside a shelter than on the street.
“I never heard of a shelter that allowed drinking on site,” said Andrea Ingram, the executive director of the Howard County nonprofit Grassroots, a crisis intervention center that operates area homeless shelters. “I’ve never heard of a shelter that served alcohol and I would find that hard to believe it was actually happening.”
Grassroots, which operates both an in-house shelter and a cold weather shelter, which is a shelter that is operated out of a variety of religious facilities, has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the use of alcohol and drugs on the premises.
“The presence of alcohol or drugs makes it a more dangerous situation for everybody,” Ingram said.
However she adds that if a person comes to a shelter under the influence, that person is not necessarily turned away as long as the alcohol and drugs remain outside.
“To me a ‘wet shelter’ means that if someone arrives under the influence, you allow a place for them to stay; it’s really a behavioral guideline as to whether they can remain in the group,” Ingram explains. “We would not exclude someone who is under the influence, because that puts them in a life-threatening position.”
According to Ingram, at the moment there are 51 people at the organization’s in-house shelter, 26 people at the organization’s cold weather shelter, and four families who have been placed in a motel.
Homelessness is not unique to any of Maryland’s counties, including Baltimore County. At a given time, there are 891 homeless invdividuals in the county, according to the Department of Social Services' website.
But no county-run shelters allow alcohol on the premises, said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for county social services.
"It's just...generally not considered a good practice," Robinson said.
The county operates four shelters that require referrals to enter, including one at Hannah More in Reisterstown, which provides beds for single women and families with children.
Owings Mills Patch editor Alexander Pyles contributed to this story.