Downtown Austin Alliance forum details new Sobriety Center

Austin is getting a brand new "sobriety center" next Fall.  It's being modeled after the "Houston Recovery Center" that opened in 2013.
Executive Director Leonard Kincaid was on a panel here in Austin Thursday morning at a forum put on by the Downtown Austin Alliance.
He says the year before the Houston facility opened there were 15,000 arrests for public intoxication in the city.

"Last year we had 1500 arrests for public intoxication.  That's about a 90% reduction," Kincaid said.
Also on the panel, Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo.

"The research shows that there are about 3,000 arrests for public intoxication and these are individuals who are not in the process of committing any other crime," Tovo said.

Police Chief Art Acevedo paints a picture of Sixth Street on a Friday night at bar closing time.

"What you have is just thousands of drunks leaving bars and people passing out and people vomiting," he said.

The Chief says officers will make a judgement call whether to take them to jail or the sobriety center to just sleep it off.

He says it's a big time-saver.

"Our officers will be in and out in 10 to 15 minutes as opposed to sometimes in the peak hours when we go book somebody at the jail you may be there a significant amount of time," Acevedo said.

And Mayor Pro-Tem Tovo says it's a money saver too.  Her staff says in 2014 Austin Police booking costs for public intoxication were between $166,000 and $294,000.  More than $700,000 for booking and jailing for the Travis County Sheriff's Office.

And she says hospitals may save millions.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty jokingly admitted some of his friends think he's quote "gone soft" because he supports the sobriety center.

"Most people probably thought 'How are you going to get Gerald Daugherty looped into this thing?'  Is this a goody two shoe kind of a deal?  Is it the typical-Austin 'well let's take and let's just coddle everybody and make sure that they're A-Okay?'  Well quite frankly I thought 'I need to dispel that' and the best way that I can do that is to do the research," Daugherty said.

And that research included meeting Kincaid at the Houston facility at 1 in the morning to see it in action.  He says the sobriety center has a real place in the community.

While there will be people using the facility who really need help with alcohol addiction, according to the panelists, 70% of the people expected to use the center are professionals and students that rarely get drunk.  Daugherty would like them to pay up.

"If you can go get tanked for 150 bucks on your credit card, you can sure pay the sobriety center something to offset some expenses that we have and...I don't know that the rest of the committee shares my opinion about that," Daugherty said.
"I second it commissioner," Acevedo chimed in.