The Sobering Center is now in its fourth winter of operation. It provides a safe place for intoxicated people to sleep off a bad night of drinking. Since it opened, the center has expanded its hours and built relationships with the people it serves.
It takes a team to keep Bethel’s inebriates safe. Community service patrol officers pick up people who are intoxicated and incapacitated. If they don’t have a home to go back to, they are placed in title 47 protective hold for 12 hours. At the Sobering Center, that means a night on a somewhat soft rubber mat. Last year, the center provided 1,860 sleep-off nights with about 970 unique individuals. Several make repeater visits at according to Rusty Tews, the Sobering Center Program Manager for YKHC.
“We have a core of hardcore chronic users, that we see usually regularly that we see regular,” Tews said. “They have a severe addiction problem, they need more services than we provide but they don’t want them and they’re not ready to change.”
Tews said more than half of the patrons come from surrounding villages. About 40 percent are Bethel residents and the other 60 percent people from out of town. The customers are not exactly in their best state, but Tews and the staff make an effort to put people on a different path and avoid having too many repeat customers.
“When people leave here they’re hung over, a lot of them don’t want to talk, but we do offer a conversation, we provide basic health information,” Tews said.
Tews said about one in five are willing to talk about alcohol issues. Ultimately 5 to 7 percent of their contacts result in a referral to medical treatment. The center started off being open just 4 nights a week and later moved to 24/7 operation. Tews said the staff has learned to relax a little bit and meet people where they are.
“Whereas everyone was terrified when we started that drunk people are nasty, ignorant, and hard to get along with,” he said. “They’re generally just people. When they’re sober their just sober, when they’re drunk, they’re just people with a problem. We’ve learned to deal with the problems in a sympathetic and professional way and I think it shows.”
In the future, Tews said the organization and its partners are looking into how to do more with their resources and better serve patients.