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Farmington says new approach to addressing intoxication yielded positive results

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The way the majority of intoxicated people arrive at the Sobering Center on Ojo Court has changed since the facility first opened in 2016.

Originally, most were taken to the Sobering Center by the Farmington Police Department. Now the largest portion of Sobering Center visitors walk in the front door and check themselves in for an 11-hour stay, according to numbers presented to the Farmington City Council on Feb. 18.

Others are brought to the center by the Alternative Response Unit, a team consisting of a driver and an emergency medical technician. This team drives a repurposed Red Apple Transit bus on a route through Farmington and responds to some calls, including down subject calls.

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Kris Chavez, a district coordinator officer with Farmington Police Department drops off an inebriated subject, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 at the Sobering Center in Farmington.

Programs like the Sobering Center, the Alternative Response Unit, the Farmington park rangers and the Joint Intervention Program are part of an effort to change how the community addresses public intoxication, addiction and homelessness.

City officials say creating these programs allowed police officers to focus on other issues — including driving while intoxicated — and also improved relationships with community members, including people struggling with addiction and homelessness.

Farmington has partnered with San Juan County, Presbyterian Medical Services, San Juan Regional Medical Center and others to provide what one city official dubbed “a campus of care” on Ojo Court.

This campus originally housed only Totah Behavioral Health Authority, a branch of Presbyterian Medical Services.

Kristine Carlson, director of Totah Behavioral Health  Authority shows the  breathalyzer her staff uses for client check-ins, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 at the Sobering Center in Farmington.

Later the Sobering Center opened on the same campus, followed by Paul’s Place — a housing component for the Joint Intervention Program. JIP started as a pilot program in 2013 but did not have a housing option until Paul’s Place opened in 2016.

The most recent addition to the campus is the winter shelter, which began operating off of Ojo Court in November. The winter shelter was previously run by the Salvation Army using a building near downtown Farmington. 

Officials hope keeping these services on the same campus will make it easier for people struggling with addiction who want to get help.

PMS Northwest Region Director Laura Ann Crawford said she would like to see a food kitchen locate at the campus to provide free meals. She said currently the people who use the services walk downtown to eat at Catholic Charities or the Daily Bread.

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JIP successes lead to plans for expansion of services

JIP is focused on providing addiction recovery services for the top users of services like the Sobering Center, San Juan Regional Medical Center's emergency department or the adult detention center. 

In the past it has focused on alcohol addiction, but Crawford told the City Council it will expand to offer addiction recovery for other substances. It is also partnering with Four Corners Equine Rescue to provide equine therapy.

Crawford told the story of one of the 137 people who have gone through the program. She said he had been sleeping in trash receptacles and eating out of the garbage. He graduated the program in 2019 and now has a full-time job and has enrolled in college. She said it previously cost the community $26,971 for housing him at the detention center and caring for him at the Sobering Center and emergency department. Now he is sober and contributing back to the community.

The newly opened Paul's Place has enough beds to accommodate 45 residents, though only six are living there now with another seven moving in.

Sobering Center provides assistance more than 9,000 times in 2019

Approximately 1,200 people used the Sobering Center in 2019, but some of them used it multiple times. Crawford said it recorded 9,045 admissions in 2019. This is an increase from previous years, although the number of people utilizing the facility has remained fairly consistent.

The majority of people who use the Sobering Center are only admitted once. In 2019, 523 people were admitted a single time. But one person was admitted 116 times.

Of those 9,045 admissions, people walked in and checked themselves in to the facility more than 3,000 times. Meanwhile, the Alternative Response Unit brought people to the Sobering Center more than 1,500 times and Farmington Police Department brought people more than 1,500 times. 

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This month the Alternative Response Unit has transported 285 individuals to the Sobering Center since the start of the month. Some of those 285 admissions were the same people. It has also taken 36 people to the winter shelter.

Farmington Fire Department Station One Capt. Mike Stahll and Farmington Police Department District Coordinator Ofc. Kris Chavez prepare to transport an inebriated person to the Sobering Center, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 shortly after making contact with the individual at the Shell gas station off West Apache Street in Farmington.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.