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Plans For A Sobering Center On Skid Row Approved

Latest homeless issue news. (Thinkstock)
Latest homeless issue news. (Thinkstock)

The Board of Supervisors approved plans for a “sobering center” on Skid Row on Tuesday, an attempt to divert homeless alcoholics away from jail and emergency rooms and toward treatment.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, who recommended opening the center, said many homeless individuals with chronic alcoholism bounce back and forth between Skid Row and County-USC Medical Center’s emergency room up to 50 times a year.

Those who pose a danger to themselves or others are arrested. Others found unconscious or staggering in the street following a 911 call are taken to the hospital by firefighters and paramedics.

Paramedics end up waiting up to six hours to get the patients admitted into the overcrowded emergency room, something they call “wall time,” according to the supervisors’ motion.

The scenario plays out hundreds of times a month, with no meaningful intervention for the patients, Ridley-Thomas said.

“This is a smart approach designed to save taxpayer dollars, improve the downtown area, free up scarce emergency resources and help the homeless heal,” Ridley-Thomas said.

The sobering center will move into a complex of modular buildings at 640/646 Maple Ave. recently vacated by the Department of Mental Health.

The 9,500-square-foot facility is expected to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and require $2 million in one-time funding and $3.4 million in annual operating costs. If it achieves 60 percent of the goal of handling 8,000 visits annually, it will save the county $9.6 million each year, according to the motion.

The idea is that severely intoxicated homeless individuals would stay an average of eight to 23 hours in the center. Once sober, staffers would help link them to substance abuse treatment, housing and other support services aimed at breaking the cycle of dependency.

“With county-employed health professionals and service providers on site, it is my hope we can reduce the number of individuals on the street and connect them with the resources they need to make positive changes,” Solis said.

The supervisors cited support from the business community.

“This is a compassionate and cost-effective solution,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association, a business advocacy organization. “This is one small, but very important step to help the county’s homeless population and provide a clear path for recovery.”

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