Austin one step closer to having Sobriety Center

On Thursday, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Travis County for the creation of a "Sobriety Center."

Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo says in addition to providing help for intoxicated people, part of the goal is cost savings.

"Some of them would have required attorneys to represent them.  You know that represents a lot of costs to the municipality and so the hope of the Sobriety Center is in part that we'll actually save money as a city," Tovo said.

According to a city report, the annual staffing expense is estimated at $1.3 million for 27 full time employees.  The city is considering the current Medical Examiner's office to house the center when the M.E. moves out.  There's enough room in the building for an Austin Police substation as well.

APD Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft says a Sobriety Center would put officers back on the street faster.

"That officer arrests that person, takes them to jail, and if they have to go to the nurses office or Brackenridge, we're looking at 3 or 4 hours of time spent for that officer on one Class C Misdemeanor.  We feel that we're short on cops anyway and we want to use our resources the best way possible," Dusterhoft said.

Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the Medical Director of the UMC Brackenridge Emergency Department says sometimes a third of their critical care capacity is filled with drunks trying to sleep it off.

"So the best case scenario is when they come in and they sleep quietly and they take up a bed for far longer than they should and they don't really need any other services.  The worst case scenario is when they're a handful," Ziebell said.

Dr. Ziebell has been a big advocate for the Sobriety Center but 2017 is years away.  He says a solution to this problem is needed now.

"I don't know that I know exactly what that would be, I think that a facility or a structure relatively near to this part of town would be helpful.  And if we could get something established before 2017 and then move it over to the other building, if the other building is really ideal then that's great too," Ziebell said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Tovo also agrees an immediate solution is needed.
She says it's very possible it could happen as well -- as soon as they get through some of these early negotiations.