Rewind: Sobering Center takes new approach
- The Sobering Center opened in March and has helped more than 900 people over about nine months.
- Multiple entities came together to open the Sobering Center, which officials say is a new approach.
- The Sobering Center staff works to connect people with addiction treatment services.
Editor's note: The Daily Times' annual “Rewind” series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year. To read more “Rewind” stories, go to daily-times.com.
FARMINGTON — About nine months after it opened its doors, the Sobering Center has provided a safe shelter for hundreds of intoxicated people.
“We’ve been really happy with what we’re seeing,” County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said when reached by phone Friday.
More than a year of effort, planning and cooperation between multiple entities brought the new Sobering Center to fruition this year. The project became a priority for local officials in 2014 when Four Winds Recovery Center officials announced they could no longer afford to run the only detox center in San Juan County.
In response, San Juan County, the San Juan Regional Medical Center, the city of Farmington and Presbyterian Medical Services teamed up to open the Sobering Center. The Sobering Center officially opened in March on Ojo Court off the Bisti Highway.
Officials say the Sobering Center represents a new approach toward addressing problems with inebriated people on the streets.
“This is a completely, utterly different model,” Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes said during a council work session on Tuesday.
The Sobering Center was strategically located on Ojo Court to provide more options for people who struggle with addiction.
“There are some additional options that go beyond just a place for people to sleep through their inebriation,” Carpenter said.
The key to the model is providing each person who goes to the Sobering Center with the opportunity to receive treatment through the Totah Behavioral Health Authority or the Joint Intervention Program. Both the Totah Behavioral Health Authority and the Joint Intervention Program are located on the same campus as the Sobering Center.
Since the center opened, the Totah Behavioral Health Authority has seen an increased number of people utilizing its treatment programs, according to Laura Ann Crawford, the northwest region director for Presbyterian Medical Services, which runs the authority.
When people leave the Sobering Center, the staff makes an effort to walk them across the parking lot to the authority so they can begin an addiction treatment program.
“They could cycle through that campus and get treatment,” Crawford said.
Crawford said the staff works to ensure that the people the Sobering Center serves are connected with the right program. For some of those people, it could be the Joint Intervention Program, which focuses on people who spend the majority of their time incarcerated or in the emergency room or at the Sobering Center.
While the program began a couple of years ago, the opening of Paul’s Place, a dormitory across from the Sobering Center, allows the participants to have a safe place to stay while receiving treatment.
Carpenter said there is a lot of potential for the Sobering Center and the treatment programs.
“We’re much better off than we were a year ago,” he said.
While officials are optimistic about the Sobering Center, some people have expressed concerns about the voluntary nature of the Sobering Center.
Unlike the detox center previously operated by the Four Winds Recovery Center, the Sobering Center is a voluntary facility for intoxicated people to use.
Some city councilors and county commissioners questioned the Sobering Center model of allowing people to come and go as they please. The Four Winds model had a mandatory 72-hour stay for anyone who was brought to its program. The Sobering Center offers 11-hour voluntary stays. After 11 hours, the clients who want to stay longer are discharged and then readmitted.
During a City Council work session this week, Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said there has not been a noticeable spike in crime resulting from the shorter, voluntary stays.
Crawford said the voluntary stays ensure that no one’s civil rights are violated. While staying at the Sobering Center is a choice, Crawford said the Sobering Center is the right place for people to stay, rather than on the streets. She said there are safe places people can go after leaving the Sobering Center, and the staff works with them to get them to those safe places.
The difference between the two models makes it so officials have a hard time comparing the number of people using the Sobering Center to the number of people who used the Four Winds detox center.
While the Sobering Center averages 600 admissions a month, many of those are the same people. In contrast, Four Winds reported an average of about 300 admissions a month during the same period of time. Crawford told the City Council this week that a total of 973 people have used the Sobering Center since it opened.
On Thursday, Crawford said the majority of community members have been supportive of the efforts at the Sobering Center.
This week, those using the Sobering Center received a gift from a Farmington family. Each Christmas, the Lawrence family delivers bags of food and clothes to homeless people around San Juan County.
This year, in addition to driving around and delivering the bags to individual people living on the streets of Farmington, the family of four stopped by the Sobering Center with several large boxes filled with bags.
“I knew there was going to be a need here,” family member Krista Lawrence said as the family arranged bags on a table at the center.
While the Sobering Center serves anyone who needs a safe place to stay and is intoxicated, many of its clients would otherwise be sleeping on the streets. Lawrence works in the courts system in San Juan County and said the center has been needed for a long time.
She stressed the need for people to be compassionate toward homeless people and offer help.
“That could be their mom, dad, brother or sister out there,” she said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.