FARMINGTON — Farmington officials in early July formed a pilot project that they say is keeping alcoholics and other people who are repeatedly arrested out of jail.

"For everyday that a person's not in jail, the city of Farmington's not spending $70," said Mike Renaud, northwest region director of Presbyterian Medical Services, a supporting project partner. "For every day that one of those individuals isn't in detox, the city of Farmington — our local system — isn't spending $150."

The city saved an estimated $36,000 over a three-month period on 10 people considered "repeat offenders" who were part of the "Joint Intervention Project," according to project officials.

Totah Behavioral Health board member Bill Standley listens as Mike Renaud gives a speech Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center during the Comprehensive
Totah Behavioral Health board member Bill Standley listens as Mike Renaud gives a speech Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center during the Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Providers meeting on a project intended to rehabilitate street inebriates. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

They selected the top 10 offenders from a list of 100 who spend days in jail, detoxification or other interventions programs. Farmington Deputy Chief Vince Mitchell said instead of jail time, the 10 people entered the program.

Renaud presented project details in the Farmington Civic Center during a Thursday meeting of the Four Corners Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Providers. CHAP is a group of local service providers dedicated to resolving homelessness in Farmington.

Renaud and Mitchell, the founding members, set two objectives for the project. One, they wanted to help addicts and the homeless recover. And two — as many local organizations share that objective — they wanted to learn how to do it better.

"We said, 'Let's try something different,'" Mitchell said.

All the efforts to help the homeless in Farmington have been isolated, Renaud said. None of the organizations have coordinated their efforts, he said, and that's what the project strives to do.

Project officials collected data from San Juan County Adult Detention Center, Four Winds Recovery Center, Farmington Police Department, Farmington Municipal Judge Bill Liese and Totah Behavioral Health Authority, which is run by Presbyterian Medical Services, he said.

San Juan College Presidential Advisor for Community Relations Dr. Nancy Shepherd on Thursday talks during the Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Providers
San Juan College Presidential Advisor for Community Relations Dr. Nancy Shepherd on Thursday talks during the Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Providers meeting at the Farmington Civic Center about a project intended to rehabilitate street inebriates. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

After the first three months in the project, the detoxification, emergency room, arrest and detention rates for the 10 participants dropped significantly. According to project data, there was a 31 percent drop in detox use, 38 percent drop in ER use, 44 percent drop in arrests and 94 percent drop in days spent in jail.

Stephanie Benally, a community support worker with the project, worked directly with the program's participants.

The program helped them resolve unattended health issues such as rotten teeth, hepatitis or alcoholism and grief from domestic violence, physical abuse and spiritual torment. She said it helped them recover their identity.

One man, she said, walked in shaking and spitting blood. He was jaundiced and suffered delirium tremors. He didn't smile and spoke infrequently.

But today, she said, he has been sober for more than 120 days. He has social security and when he has money he buys meals at Blake's Lotaburger or Denny's, and cloths to keep him warm on the street, she said.

"Today I can say that he walks out of our facility being able to smile again, being able to communicate with everyone," she said.

But the project is unfunded.

Renaud was unable to immediately provide details on the project's budget and expenditures.

Totah Director Kristine Carlson said the project can sometimes bill services, such as therapy, but the project isn't reimbursed for the hours that Benally spends with the participants or many other services provided. The project's next step, she said, is finding funding.

"It's still a very small program," Benally said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.