FAIRBANKS (AP) — A tribal nonprofit organization is moving forward with plans to open up a sobering center in Fairbanks for severely intoxicated people.
Leaders from the Tanana Chiefs Conference have informed city officials of their plans to start operating the facility before July.
The sobering center is intended to serve as an alternative to a hospital or jail stay for people struggling with alcohol addictions, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
“We’re going to provide a safe place for them to sober up. This population is very vulnerable and at risk,” said Tanana Chiefs Conference’s Housing First Director Shirley Lee. “I can’t speak enough about the vulnerability of this population, especially the women. For many of them to be assaulted is something that is normal for them. It’s not normal.”
The nonprofit received a state grant earlier this year to help fund the center’s operations.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has also offered up $120,000 to help the conference secure a lease for a building that will be the site of the 12-bed sobering center.
The nonprofit is in negotiations with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to lease the Denardo Center, which was previously used for residential mental health treatment. The trust authority is accepting public comment on the potential sale or lease of the building.
Lee said the sobering center would be staffed 24/7 by personnel with emergency medical technician training. Job listings will be posted soon for a full-time manager, nine staff members with EMT training and one part-time janitor, she said.
The center would serve inebriates who have been picked up by the Fairbanks Community Service Patrol or Fairbanks Police Department and taken into protective custody.
It would be geared toward Interior Alaska’s homeless residents, who often struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems that prevent them from getting the treatment services they need, Lee said.
“In order to serve the hard-to-provide population, the system we provide has to adapt to meet these individuals in order to effectively reach them so they can reach appropriate services instead of trying to force them into services or have them overuse services that are not appropriate,” she said. “That’s what the sobering center will do.”
Mayor Jim Matherly voiced his support for the project, saying it will help save lives.
“I want folks to remember that even though we hear the words ‘inebriate,’ ‘chronic inebriate,’ ‘incapacitated,’ let’s not take the focus off that these are people,” he said at a recent luncheon. “… These are mothers, fathers, these might be family members.”