Austin Sobering Center marks one year anniversary

When the doors to the Austin Sobering Center opened, those who advocated for it expected the center would be busy. Just how busy has been the surprise.

"Our numbers have certainly skyrocketed beyond what we thought,” said board chairperson Jana Ortega

Ortega believes the center is a reflection of Austin’s drinking problem and is now a new tool for law enforcement. 

"Absolutely a combination, combination of the two,” Ortega said.

Since October 2018, and estimated by the end of this month, the center will log almost 2700 intakes. The majority of those who came in intoxicated, 1664, were men with nearly 600 cases listed as female. 216 were students. The homeless and transient community, currently a hot topic in Austin, accounted for almost 500 intakes.

Ortega said the different types of intoxication have not caused a problem.

“No, no, our staff keeps a very, very, close eye on our clients while they are here and are quick to identify any problems,” said Ortega.

The most common intoxication was alcohol. Other forms included meth, k2, opioids, and marijuana. Benzo and cocaine were smaller contributors. The majority of the patients, 1080, range between the age of 25 and 39. Eighteen to 24 accounted for almost 500 intakes as well as those 40 to 54 years of age.

Ortega believes the 30 staff members at the center are making a difference.

"Absolutely, absolutely, when you have clients that have been here several times., several times and finally they are ready for treatment, then that’s absolutely a success story, and makes it all worthwhile,” said Ortega.

Most of the drop-offs are done by Austin police, logging almost 1500 cases, followed by EMS with 564 trips and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office with 58. Other local law enforcement agencies brought in the rest. Compared to trips to jail, the turnaround at the center is estimated at six minutes. Police Association president Ken Casaday calls a win-win. 

"Oh it absolutely does, the reason why it makes a difference is our officers are not sitting at the jail for hours writing a PI Report when all they have to do is get back into their car and write a few field notes and they are back in Service in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Casaday.

This one-year anniversary is not just about looking back; it’s about looking forward. Part of that forward-thinking involves a new transportation van purchased recently with grant money. It started rolling out, back in July, mainly to hospitals. The idea now is to go about town picking up people in need.

"At this point in our program we would receive a call from law enforcement or from the emergency room and we'd be dispatched and go and pick up the individual, from the custody of law enforcement or the ER,” said Ortega, who made it clear the van is not a taxi.

Along with expanding services, there is also room for improvement, according to Casaday.

"There's been discrepancies on how many police officers we need to have there, at one time, there's been issues with some of the nurses, and paramedics and how they are being treated there, so there are always issues, internal issues to work out, but as far as the police department sees out on the streets and what the citizens see, I think it’s been a great success,” said Casaday.

The center has a budget of $1.8 million dollars from the city. The fundraiser event Wednesday is to help pay for new services as well as cleaning supplies.