Sobriety center partners with UHPD as safe haven
In the corner of a dimly lit room, a TV monitor displays images of locations outside of the building. In one of the squares, a Houston Police Department patrol car pulls up. A recovery support specialist jumps up out of his seat.
“We got one coming in,” he says.
He walks down the hallway and puts on latex gloves. The back door opens, and the two officers escort a man in handcuffs, who could be mistaken for a younger Stephen King, inside.
“You can take the handcuffs off, officer,” the specialist says.
The specialist tells the man to put his hands on his head and begins to wand him with a metal detector.
He leads “Stephen King” to a chair. One of the officers hands over a brown paper bag containing the personal items of “King.”
“Sir, do you know where you are?” the specialist asks.
“I wasn’t driving,” King says.
He empties the bag, takes inventory of King’s possessions and counts his money, then has him sign a form stating he understands that his possessions are being taken away, but will be returned to him in a few hours.
Next, King enters a room where an EMT takes his vitals and has him blow into a breathalyzer.
“Sir, you are not in jail. There will be no court case, no fines, nor will it be on your record,” the EMT tells him.
“But I wasn’t driving,” King says again.
The specialist tells the officers they are free to go, then takes the man to a nearby room, where he is given a pillow and blanket and assigned a small bunk.
From there on out, the recovery support specialists will check on him and other “clients” every two hours from the time they checked in to ensure they are doing okay.
This is the process a UH student goes through if UHPD takes them in for public intoxication. In May, UHPD teamed up with the Houston Sobriety Center to bring in students instead of arresting them. The process benefits students because nothing goes on their record.
“The sobering concept is not something’s that’s new, it’s just new to this part of the country,” Houston Recovery Center Executive Director Leonard Kincaid said. “I was introduced to this concept about five years ago. I was visiting San Antonio looking at the Haven for Hope homeless project. When I saw the program that they have for dealing with people that were arrested for public intoxication, it was an idea that was extremely appealing to me. I was like, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in Houston?’”
Kincaid returned to Houston and brought the idea up to Steve Schnee, the executive director of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority. He later discussed it with Ed Gonzalez, the Mayor Pro-Tempore. Kincaid received a lot help from the city, especially from HPD, which he said helped bring the Houston Recovery Center into existence.
“In the span of three years, we had this organization open,” Kincaid said.
The City of Houston created the sobriety center as a non-profit corporation, with its own board of directors appointed by the mayor as well as its own 501(c) exemption status.
In April 2013, the center began to take in clients. However, it was not until May of this year that it became open citywide. UHPD Lt. Brett Collier said they were interested in how the center could benefit the UH community.
“The department became aware of the center in 2013, shortly after it was completed,” Collier said. “Our patrol officers began using the center’s services throughout 2013 (and) found it to be efficient and appropriate for what we are trying to accomplish.”
Collier added that when it comes to public intoxication, they saw that bringing someone to the county jail was not the best way to solve the problem.
“When the sobriety center came online, we saw that we had a viable alternative that not only gave us somewhere safe to take our community members, but also gave them an opportunity for counseling or long-term treatment if they desired it,” Collier said.
The sobriety center not only helps the student from going to jail, but also keeps them safe to sober up. It also saves time for police, who can return to patrolling the streets instead of booking citizens for public intoxication.
The national average of time need to sober up is four to six hours, depending on alcohol consumption. For the clients at the HSC, it usually takes six to eight hours.
Clients are on their own the morning after. Some clients take a cab, while others call someone to pick them up. The majority, according to HSC records, walk home.
The only time the HSC pays for a cab is if the client is going to a recovery haven. The voucher is only enough for the cab driver to take the client there; no stops along the way are allowed.
The sobriety center is more than just a place to sleep it off. People from all over the city are brought in, from the homeless to middle class. In addition, many of the recovery support specialists are licensed chemical dependency counselors; many once struggled with addiction themselves. They use their experiences in their peer-to-peer counseling with clients.
“Addiction is a chronic public health issue, and it needs to be addressed,” Houston Recovery Center Executive Assistant Ashley Ochoa said. “There’s not a cure for it, but it can be managed.”
Ochoa said that it is a lifelong management, and it takes the brain three to six months to normalize.
She added that instead of using the words “former addict” or “patient,” the terms “persons living in long term recovery” or “client” should be used.
“’Client’ is an empowering word; they are empowered because they choose to make change in their lives,” Ochoa said. “When you think of the word patient, there’s the connotation of being dependent on someone.”
Collier said if any students are seeking help, they can head to the Wellness Center.
“They have a couple of stellar programs, including the Alcohol Education Program for Minors and Alcohol 101,” Collier said.
Ochoa said students should consider the choices they make, “specifically in regards to substance abuse and what recovery can offer.”
For more information, visit houstonrecoverycenter.org. For alcohol awareness information, contact Ruben Parrish at 713-743-5487.