It’s working as planned, which is great news.
When Mayor Annise Parker opened the center at 150 North Chenevert St. last year, the idea was to cut police costs and reduce recidivism, creating a place other than jail for those whose only crime is public intoxication. Prior to the center’s opening, police were making about 17,000 arrests a year in Houston for public intoxication, racking up between $4 million and $6 million in police costs.
The sobering center has reduced that number significantly: From June 2013 to June 2014, Houston police booked just shy of 2,500 people on public intoxication, according to sobering center numbers. The center admitted more than double that number during the same time period.
Officials said the sobering center is still not being used to its full capacity, but the numbers should pick up as more jurisdictions turn to the facility. In April, Metro, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, constable precincts and University of Houston police started dropping off intoxicated people at the location.
The center started with a roughly $4 million contract with the city. Last month, council gave the center $1.2 million more out of a health waiver to expand services at outpatient recovery clinics. It’s part of an effort to make the center not just a glorified “drunk tank,” but also a place for people with addiction problems to connect with long-term treatment.
“Is it a cure-all? Is it the silver bullet for everything? It’s not,” said City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, one of the original backers of the recovery center idea. “But an intoxicated person a year ago would have been taken to jail and put through the bureaucratic system, and they probably wouldn’t have left with the help they need.”
Houston is one of just 10 or so U.S. cities – San Antonio included – with a partially or completely local or state government-funded sobering center. Most are spread out along the West Coast, from Seattle to Portland to San Diego. Another 20 to 25 cities are now considering the model, said Shannon Smith-Bernardin, deputy director of San Francisco’s sobering center. She is studying the growing number of sobering center models and their potential cost savings for her graduate school dissertation.
“There is no one definition of a sobering center right now – they all offer different services and programs,” Smith-Bernardin said. “But we know it’s becoming a trend.”
See here, here, and here for the background. There’s so much to like about this – it’s cost-effective, it keeps police officers on the streets instead of dealing with low-level offenders, it is far better equipped than the jails to direct people to real options for assistance, and it was a key step in closing the city’s jail. This is a win all around and an idea I wish we’d thought of years ago. Keep up the good work, y’all.