Why Mental Health Agencies Are Playing An Active Role In Sobering Center

Last week the Houston City Council approved a plan that will change how the police department deals with public intoxication. Currently violators are arrested and taken to jail. The new plan calls for the construction of a "sobering center" where individuals will be taken instead. Many of those taken to the center could have mental health issues to go along with substance abuse problems.


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Police arrest people for public intoxication all the time. And while they do get the occasional rowdy football fan who’s out of control or someone who leaves a bar drunk and gets in a fight in the parking lot, they say the majority of those taken into custody for being drunk are homeless people with both substance and psychological issues.

That’s why local mental health agencies are playing an active role in getting the new sobering center up and running.

Andrea Usanga is the director of policy for Mental Health America in Houston.

“While perhaps the primary issue that a number of these individuals will be facing is some type of substance abuse disorder, they may also have a mental illness that needs to be treated over the long term.” 

The Houston Sobering Center will be located at a downtown building owned by the Star of Hope. They plan to model it after a similar center in San Antonio that is said to be very successful.

“They have a detoxification center; they have a sobering center; they have, they’re building permanent supportive housing units for individuals. It also serves partly as a shelter.”

Sgt Patrick Plourde runs HPD’s Mental Health Unit. Because they do outreach with the homeless, they see a lot of the same people on the street and in the jails. But both Sgt Plourde and Andrea Usanga with Mental Health America hope the referrals and help that will be available at the sobering center will actually make a difference in the lives of those taken there.

“Hopefully this will be an opportunity to be able to identify those particular individuals in the sobering center and direct them towards other services that maybe break that cycle. Whereas being in the jail, they just serve their time then they’re back on the street and there’s no follow up.”

“We really want these individuals to be able to receive long term community services — if that’s what they need — and be able to successfully move into recovery.”

When the facility is ready later this year or early next year, Sgt Plourde and his mental health unit will also move into the facility. It’s possible they’ll still see the same people over and over. But by putting them in the center instead of jail, they’re hoping those individuals will be getting the help they need.

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