The Coast News Group
The Measure X Citizens Oversight Committee recommended a Sobering Services Center be developed to help inebriated persons experiencing homelessness. File photo
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Program takes public intoxication cases off streets, finds homeless help

OCEANSIDE — A new city intervention program is going to take publicly intoxicated people off the street and provide them with resources for help instead of putting them inside a jail cell.

In June, City Council approved a professional services agreement for $665,424 with McAlister Institute Inc. to operate a Sobering Services Center at 1919 Apple St., Suites C, D and E. The agreement will be partially funded by Measure X funds.

In spring 2019, the Measure X Citizens Oversight Committee recommended a Sobering Services Center be developed to help inebriated persons experiencing homelessness with temporary or permanent housing placement and support services.

The city’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), a non-enforcement unit of the police department that makes contact with homeless individuals and connects them with city resources to help get them off the street, found that many of the people they encountered were intoxicated and difficult to help sign up for services and find permanent housing placements.

Council put out a request for proposals to find an organization that could take on such a program, and McAlister responded.

The city has worked with McAlister in the past, according to HOT Supervisor Sgt. Jim Ridenour. McAlister previously operated a sobering services program in Oceanside that was closed at the beginning of the Great Recession between 2007 and 2008.

Ridenour said the police loved the program.

“It made it a lot easier for them (officers) to get back on the streets,” Ridenour said.

According to a staff report, the first portion of the program will be used by HOT and the Oceanside Housing Authority to help those experiencing homelessness when they show up for resources, referrals and short-term or permanent housing. Some current shelters require that individuals be sober for a minimum of 24 hours before admission, and the program will help with that.

The second portion of the program will help police handle intoxicated people in public.

Without the program, officers who encounter publicly intoxicated individuals had to arrest them and take them to the Vista Detention Facility where they are booked into jail and have to wait until they are sober before they are released. The process can take up to a few hours for one police officer to take an intoxicated person to jail, but the sobering services program can get an officer back on patrol in “minutes,” Ridenour said.

Councilmember Ryan Keim, a former Oceanside police officer, strongly believes the program will help the police. He noted McAlister was awarded a 1-year contract as a sort of trial basis with the city to make sure the program works.

Keim has heard some concerns from residents about clients of the program loitering and causing trouble around the center. As part of the agreement, McAlister will be responsible in making sure those individuals do not loiter around the business park.

“We got to make sure to look at any unintended consequences and address them going forward,” Keim said.

Ridenour said he toured McAlister’s sobering services center in San Diego prior to the city approving the agreement with the organization.

“They’re very well kept, they’re clean and they have strict rules about people coming and going,” Ridenour said.

Both Ridenour and Keim noted that the program will only provide services for Oceanside, meaning officers from surrounding cities cannot bring their intoxicated individuals to the Oceanside center.

The agreement between the city and McAlister began July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021. McAlister has a two-month start-up phase for the program and a ten-month implementation phase from there. If desired, the city could extend the contract.