FARMINGTON — San Juan Catholic Charities Executive Director Debe Betts is starting a campaign to raise funds for a different type of homeless shelter that would help people struggling with alcohol addiction.
"It has been my vision all along for Catholic Charities to build a wet shelter," said Betts, who last November was named executive director of five additional Catholic Charity agencies, including those in Gallup, Grants, and three in Arizona.
"Wet" in this case refers to a shelter that would allow an inebriated individual into the facility. Betts is currently on the lookout for existing buildings that would fill the need.
There are several shelter options for homeless people in San Juan County. But their policies and procedures require that residents enter the programs drug- and alcohol-free.
Because street alcoholics are living in the open mostly due to their addiction, few have been successful at sobering up long enough to pass the urine test required to enter these "dry" programs, meaning they continue to live on the streets.
Catholic Charities serves breakfast to the needy, and Monday through Thursday offers dinners brought in by the First Baptist Church in Bloomfield and St. Mary's Catholic Church. Betts said most of the 60 to 125 individuals who come in each day are street inebriates.
Betts said her agency and another local group coordinated with the Four Corners Foundation to raise funds for this type of emergency/transitional shelter in 2011. But that partnership ended more than a year ago, and her agency is starting from scratch to find the funding.
Betts' vision is that the facility would provide emergency shelter, as well as longer-term residential, treatment and transitional services, all under one roof. While participants in the program could enter inebriated, they would have to agree to immediately enter an on-site detoxification and treatment program.
Wet shelters are rare in the United States, but the Four Corners region does have one. The Roof was established to keep homeless people from freezing during cold winter nights. By 7 a.m., those who sleep at The Roof must leave. For homeless alcoholics, that usually means back to the streets, back to the alcoholic friends and back to the bottle.
"What we need is a place where the inebriated can go to get out of the weather -- a place that would stay open all day long so they'd have somewhere to go," Betts said. "If you want someone to stop drinking, you've got to provide some means to do that. The goal would be to help give them a hand up with vocational training, counseling and life skills, and just have people there to talk to, to support them."
Jolene Schneider is executive director of Four Winds Recovery, a detoxification and substance abuse treatment center where police take street alcoholics, some of whom cycle through regularly. Schneider said the type of shelter Betts is planning would fill a gap.
"It's different from what we do, which is protective custody. The people who come here for detox are locked up against their will in a secure environment to keep them safe and keep them from hurting others," Schneider said. "A shelter that would allow people to enter drunk is a good idea, because they might be more inclined to move toward recovery. My experience is that some of these people are open to change, if you catch them during that certain window of opportunity. But the window is very small."