Clitheroe Center helps people off street

Program addresses problem of chronic public inebriation.

Alaska’s Salvation Army Clitheroe Center, Anchorage, has launched a pilot program—the first of its kind in the state—to address the problem of the chronic inebriate. The center’s 10-bed Specialized Treatment Unit (STU) allows adult chronic public inebriates at serious risk of harm to themselves or others to detoxify and receive treatment services under Alaska statute Title 47.

At the official grand opening held in early November, Major Doug Tollerud, Alaska divisional commander, welcomed State Senator Johnny Ellis, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, State Representative Mike Kelly, and Melissa Stone from the State Division of Behavioral Health.

While Title 47 involuntarily commits an individual, The Salvation Army is clear that the program is not intended to be punitive. Robert Heffle, director of Clitheroe Center said, “At the forefront of my thinking and what I ask my staff to remember is that if this were my loved one, wouldn’t I want a safe place for them to receive help?”

The initial commitment period is for 48 hours, with extensions granted up to 30 days or longer, at the discretion of the judge and with input from the treatment team, in order to provide each individual an opportunity to make choices with a clear mind about the future direction of his or her life.

Headlines in the Anchorage Daily News have reminded the community about the devastating impact of alcohol, with 12 people dying on the streets of the city since May because of alcohol abuse. While the media recently highlighted the problem, Senator Johnny Ellis initiated dialogue about the need to address this issue more than two years ago. Throughout the process, the Senator and his staff dedicated countless hours and secured the necessary resources to keep the project moving forward. Estimates indicate approximately 400 chronic public inebriates in Anchorage, but 10 percent of the individuals account for about 90 percent of the costs associated with public inebriation. Ellis said, “This Specialized Treatment Unit is just one piece of a complex puzzle and I’m hopeful that funding for substance abuse treatment will be a priority for lawmakers in the future.”

Sullivan has also been a strong advocate for addressing the city’s chronic inebriate problem. Since taking office in July, he has created a strategic action plan addressing Anchorage’s chronic public inebriates and the related issue of homelessness, hired a homeless coordinator, and formed a Homelessness Leadership Team to bring together service providers and other concerned individuals to formulate a comprehensive approach to the homeless chronic inebriate problem. Sullivan said, “I believe that by working together in a coordinated, collaborative community effort, we can help our most vulnerable citizens, while improving public safety in our neighborhoods. The Specialized Treatment Unit at Clitheroe is a good example of such collaboration—and will assist us in expanding services to those who suffer from chronic substance abuse issues.”

While the STU is a pilot project, with funding provided through June 30, 2010, The Salvation Army is already seeing the impact of the program in the lives of individuals placed there. At the grand opening, Heffle recalled a conversation from a few days before the event. A client in the STU approached him and shared that just a week earlier he had been standing on a street corner, holding a sign, begging for money that he likely would have spent on alcohol. He then said, “I’m warm, I’m safe and I really feel welcome here.”

Since it opened this past summer, 11 individuals have come through the program, with six completing it.

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