A report just released by San Diego police shows the skyrocketing cost of treating chronic alcoholism and homelessness in San Diego. According to the report, one man had to be transported to the hospital 52 times and was also arrested eight times in one year, at a cost to the city of $85,000.
In 2013, police arrested 7,600 people, many of them homeless, for drunk in public offenses. The report identified 12 chronic alcoholics who were transported 316 times in a year, at a cost to the city of nearly $470,000.
Sean Fitzpatrick, who has been homeless for more than two years, says:
A lot of these people turn to alcohol because its a cheap way to numb yourself from what you’re going through.
San Diego currently utilizes a number of programs and facilities to fight homelessness and chronic alcoholism. The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) together with the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT)
are the city’s initial point of contact with both chronic homeless and chronic inebriates living on the streets. Every HOT Team is composed of police officers, county psychiatric clinicians and county mental health eligibility technicians. They seek out and engage chronically homeless persons and place those who are willing in housing linked with appropriate services. The San Diego Police Department and Community Services fund the law enforcement officers in this program.
Last year, the HOT program had more than 2,100 contacts with people on the streets, and 720 were placed in facilities other than jail. That’s an 84% increase from 2012, when 391 received placement. San Diego police and its partnering agencies are calling this program a success.
San Diego’s Serial Inebriate Program (SIP) is offered to chronically homeless, substance dependent people who have been arrested. Like HOT, SIP offers offenders an opportunity to participate in treatment, sober-living environments as an alternative to incarceration, as well as access to emergency room care, transitional housing or long-term care.
When one is convicted of public intoxication and custody time is imposed, clients are offered alcohol and drug treatment instead of incarceration. If the client accepts treatment, they are transported to St. Vincent de Paul Village Family Health Center for their medical and psychiatric evaluation and then to the substance abuse treatment program at Mid-Coast Recovery Center.
The County of San Diego Alcohol and Drug Services Division contracts with Mental Health Services, Inc, to provide substance abuse treatment, case management, City-sponsored housing and other services to support their treatment, plus recovery efforts to help them obtain self-sufficiency. During their six months of substance abuse treatment, clients work with their case manager to plan the next stages of recovery. Graduates have attained self-sufficiency, employment, housing and a renewal of their lives.
Teams work to assess the homeless person’s problems and identify how to help them from a range of solutions. Whether their homelessness has been caused by loss of income, psychological problems, substance abuse, lack of job training and/or other problems, multiple options are available to assist each person. This approach not only provides short-term answers but also develops permanent solutions. The teams provide care, resources and assistance to about 700 arrested chronic alcoholics per year.
San Diego Council President Todd Gloria says:
Living on the streets is more expensive for taxpayers. It seems counterintuitive, but the overreliance on emergency rooms, on 911, on interaction with law enforcement is more expensive than giving them housing in a facility like Connections Housing.
Recently, new Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced $160,000 allocated in the latest proposed budget for HOT and SIP—part of $1.9 million proposed to help with homelessness solutions.
In addition, through contracts with nonprofit service providers, funds from the San Diego’s Community Development Block Grant and Social Services programs help provide services to the Winter Shelter Program, Neil Good Day Center, 150-bed Cortez Hill Family Center and the Seniors Transitional Housing Program. The city’s Homeless Adminstrator represents the city on regional homeless committees, including the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care Council and the East Village Redevelopment Homeless Advisory Committee.
The City works in collaboration with the County of San Diego to provide mainstream resources to establish a continuum of care for episodic, transitional and chronic homeless individuals and families in the area.
To address the needs of homeless people with special needs, such as mental illness, chronic alcohol or drug abuse, or both, the Mayor and City Council have approved the development of a Special Needs Housing Program. During the past two years the program has provided 100 transitional beds for the severely mentally ill and dually-diagnosed homeless and 100 permanent supportive housing units. Under development are 80 beds for short and long-term residential substance abuse treatment for chronic inebriates and dually-diagnosed homeless veterans, with more housing types to be included in the future.