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Sobering program ends, inebriated will now be sent to hospitals or jail

ESCONDIDO — Interfaith Community Services’ sobering mat program will end July 15. This means adults who are intoxicated will no longer have a place to sleep it off until they become sober, but instead will be sent to hospitals or the county jail. 

The Escondido Community Sobering and Stabilization program has provided a safe place to sober up and a bridge to additional community services for 16 years.

“It’s a controlled, closed-door environment,” Craig Jones, Interfaith Community Services associate director, said. “It’s staffed 24/7.”

At the facility 10 mats are laid out on the floor and clients, who walk in or who are referred to the service by police or hospitals, rest and sober up on the mats. Men and women are grouped on different sides of the room. Staff talks to clients if they are awake, but most clients choose to simply sleep it off. Showers, restrooms, hydration and some food are provided to individuals during their stay.

Stays are a minimum of four hours and up to 23 hours. Jones said if a client is not sober within 23 hours they would be checked out and then checked back in.

“The goal is to give them as much time as they need to reach an initial sober state,” he said.

Once clients reach a sober state an interview is held and recommendations are made on next steps for clients.

For some their intoxication is just an isolated incident and they return home, for others it’s a repeated occurrence and additional social services are recommended.

“This has been an effective means of helping people enter recovery,” said Patti Hamic-Christensen, Escondido Community Sobering and Stabilization program manager. “Without it these individuals are likely to remain on the street or end up in more expensive facilities for the public like the hospital or in jail.”

It is up to the individual to follow through with recommendations. Jones said individuals have to be ready to change.

“For deeper chronic substance abuse problems, homelessness, and other issues we show them a route to available community services,” Jones said.

He added men and women often come to the sobering mat program several times before they build trust with staff and commit to getting additional help.

“There are substantial barriers,” he said. “It can take multiple contacts before they reach a comfort level working with us and are ready to make a significant change.”

In 2012 there were 2,583 total mat stays. Of those stays 34.8 percent of individuals went to an emergency shelter, 27.8 percent entered to a substance abuse facility, 12.6 percent acquired transitional housing, 2.9 percent were hospitalized, 0.3 percent went to jail, and 9.9 percent returned to the streets without housing.

The sobering mat program is set to end in mid-July because the property lease is up at the city building where the program is held. The city leased the property to Interfaith Community Services at close to no cost because of the community services Interfaith provided. Jones said it is difficult to find a place to relocate the program because of cost and type of service.

The current location is within an industrial park. The Interfaith Community Services 34-bed residential addiction recovery program is located in the same building.

Jones said a new location has been found for the residential addiction recovery program to move into in mid-August, but the sobering mat program is limited to locations zoned for medical support services.

Jones added Interfaith Community Services is still open to ideas and partnerships to restart the program at a different location.

“We believe strongly in this particular service,” Jones said. “We’re looking at any and all possibilities.”

A partnership with Tri-City Medical Center almost solved the problem, but the planned property purchase fell through.

Jones said ideally he would like to run the sobering mat program in several cities along the (state Route) 78 corridor.