Drinking Issue

Booze and Strippers

Suddenly Serving

The Ballard Booze Legend

Under 21?

Once Upon a Time in America...

Drinking While Black

How Are They Doing?

Past Help

Seattle Bans Booze—A Cautionary Tale

Police Beat Special Edition

Everyone knows that if the "Alcohol Impact Area" becomes mandatory in Pioneer Square it will not solve the problem of "chronic public inebriation." It may move it, or simply add more rules to a game that is already tiresome. Nor will increased human services, policing, and other comprehensive community-based efforts end public intoxication.

As with other neighborhood problems, like drug activity on Union and 23rd, or prostitution along Aurora, or car abandonment in West Seattle, chronic public inebriation is a hard urban fact that will not die despite our best efforts to strangle it. If Pioneer Square wants to flush out the dedicated population of drunks, it has to do a lot more than impose sales restrictions on certain products. It has to radically change what it is, and become a different urban space.

Prostitution, for example, flourishes on Aurora not because it has a certain mysterious appeal for sex workers and their clients. It thrives there because its infrastructure makes the sex economy possible. The broad avenue facilitates massive flows of automobiles, and there are lots of cheap motels along the busy strip. Similarly, the problem of chronic public inebriation is concentrated in Pioneer Square not because drunkards have a thing for 19th- and early-20th-century architecture, or are inspired by the historical atmosphere of the neighborhood, but because it offers a suitable economy for their needs.

Chronic public inebriants will not move into poorer, working-class neighborhoods. Nor should they--the working class cannot sufficiently support their standard of living. Chronic public inebriants need, like all upscale downtown Seattle businesses, "high-end" consumers and tourists who, in a moment of kindness, can spare the change needed to purchase cheap but potent alcohol. So there has to be an infrastructure to support the economy of chronic public inebriation, and neighborhoods like Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, and Belltown offer not only the preferred class of people (managers, professionals, and so on), but also the kind of density that turns rare acts of kindness into regular acts of kindness.

The Chronic Public Inebriate Systems Solutions Committee (a group set up by Ron Simms), even with support from Greg Nickels and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, will not rid Pioneer Square of unwanted alcoholics. The problem needs creative thinking, and so far no people in the city government, social-service organizations, or the business community have allowed themselves to think "outside of the box." So far we have only explored aggressive resistance/solutions to the problem of chronic public inebriation, such as low-level police harassment, posters encouraging people not to give money to panhandlers, and now alcohol sales bans. As is frequently said in kung fu movies, submission can also be a kind of action, so perhaps it's time we explored some passive solutions to this problem.

Let's venture outside the box, shall we? Most of the problems associated with pubic intoxication (public vomiting, urination, and other disturbances) are caused by off-premises consumption, or public drinking. If there were more opportunities for homeless people to drink in private, most of these unpleasant activities would be significantly reduced. The solution? Open bars in the homeless shelters--preferably in the basements of these shelters--which would keep drinkers, and the effects of their drinking, out of public sight. True, there would still be people begging, but the deleterious effects of drinking would be moved indoors. The shelter bar would sell cheap but potent forms of alcohol, and not in mugs or cups or cans, but in big plastic buckets that require considerable effort to carry from the bar to the table. (The tables should be made of thick wood like the tables in the Comet Tavern.) The reason for buckets is they would foster communal drinking and communal bonds. I also recommend that some form of proof of being a chronic public inebriant be presented at the bar before service is offered, so as to keep out hipsters who, in their neverending search for the ultimate dive, would inevitably attempt to patronize shelter bars.

Only a tired moral ideal prevents us from seriously considering this passive solution. But if given a chance, it would prove to be more effective than the product restrictions in designated neighborhoods. A practice, by the way, which runs counter to the very capitalist principles that have made our nation great.