Los Angeles has the largest number of homeless people in the nation, with a survey by the Weingart Center, estimating that 254,000 people in L.A. county experience homelessness at some point during the year. Even as real estate and rental prices increase astronomically and many neighborhoods struggle with issues related to gentrification it is a problem that is getting worse.
The Los Angeles Times, using statistics from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, found that people in the county living in chronic homeless increased by 55 percent between 2013 and 2015. Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared homelessness a public emergency, and public officials have unveiled plans to devote $100 million towards relief and solutions.
Homelessness and substance abuse often go together. Alcoholrehab.com estimates that around 38 percent of homeless people abuse alcohol, signifncatly more than the general population.
Many people turn to alcohol as a way of coping with the tremendous stresses of living on the street, while others found their addiction robbed them of everything they had. Either way, excessive or chronic alcohol use can be very detrimental to a homeless person's health, social connections, and abilities to better their lives.
For that reason, innovative efforts at harm reduction and encouraging recovery must be an important part of our work to end homelessness. Los Angeles county has recently proposed a new center on skid row that could help thousands of lives.
Currently, people who are drunk to the point of behaving erratically or in danger of alcohol poisoning are usually picked up by first responders and brought to either jail or an emergency room. They are treated and released, and almost always start drinking against almost immediately, in a cycle that never ends.
There are some chronically alcoholic homeless people who move between living on the street and staying in a hospital as many as 50 times a year. It is a crisis-based solution that doesn't foster real treatment or recovery, but does cost fire, health, and law enforcement departments a great deal of time and money.
The cities of Portland and San Antonio have found what might be a promising solution to this, by creating an alternative place, where intoxicated people can go or be sent to stay safe and receive care. The L.A. county supervisors voted for a plan to set up a sobering center in the downtown Los Angeles Skid Row in March 2016, as a way to give dangerously intoxicated individuals a place to go to be cared for.
The measure was written and sponsored by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis. Once this center opens in the fall of 2016, people not requiring emergency medical care will be sent to the center. It will be staffed by a nurse practitioner, as well as clinicians and substance abuse counselors. When people leave, they will have the option to receive referrals for housing and treatment.
The center will occupy space owned by the county on Maple Street, and is expected to receive around 8,000 visits a year, seeing around 40 or 50 people at a time, who may have to stay between 8 and 23 hours. Although it is expected to cost $3.4 million a year to maintain, in the long run, it will be less expensive than constantly shuttling desperate people off to emergency rooms.
It is part of a larger push to bring the worlds of public health and criminal justice together, in a way that can help people get treatment for their addictions, rather than punishment, and to This new sobering center may be a very hopeful resource connecting the city's most needed residents with more options for lifesaving and life-changing resources.
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