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Next steps to treat chronic inebriates coming

Posted: December 16, 2011 - 1:07am

The Juneau Homeless Coalition expects to have a plan ready to begin a vulnerability index for Juneau’s “homeless chronic inebriate” population in January.

The coalition, which is comprised of several service groups working with the homeless population, has identified a group of people that are most in need of services and is looking to create more efficiencies between agencies that aim to help them. It also is a subgroup of the Juneau Economic Development Council. Part of that process includes creating a vulnerability index, where specific members will hit the streets and survey willing participants who don’t have a home and typically use alcohol. That will create a book of those who need services and rank them according to their need.

The coalition is exploring a Housing First model, which — if it eventually comes to fruition — would give those folks a place to stay.

Scott Ciambor, former affordable housing coordinator with JEDC, told the coalition at its meeting Thursday afternoon that he and Glory Hole Director Mariya Lovishchuk have worked out a draft survey for the index.

“I wanted to get feedback from all the partners,” he said. “I think it gives a pretty accurate reflection of the conversations we’ve had on this issue for the past few months.”

The reason for the delay in kicking off the index is twofold — firstly they wanted to get more input, and secondly the group still needs funding. Ciambor said he’s been speaking with statewide partners about funding for it, and while the feedback is positive, those groups have been busy with a housing summit.

The group also has come up with a preliminary report on the costs currently incurred by treating this population in a cyclical manner — pick up off the streets, send to treatment or jail, release them back to the streets. In some cases, those people get into longer-term treatment centers.

Early data from the city show the Juneau Police Department has an average of five interactions per day with the homeless chronic inebriate population — or 100 per month in the winter months. The average number of arrests is 10, and complaints per month is 25. The data also state that population is less than 3 percent of all criminal cases.

Capital City Fire and Rescue respond about five times per week to this population, the data show.

Library staff, the contractor managing the parking garages and Centennial Hall staff all also handle this population on a weekly and daily basis.

The city estimated costs at $169,000 annually — plus the $1.2 million it allocates to the Rainforest Recovery Center.

Only three downtown businesses are specifically listed in the report, but comments for issues and costs are replacement of shattered windows, employee training for cleanup of hazardous materials, possibly putting up a gate system, replacement of a door, expanding staff hours to have more presence, installation of more locks and security cameras. That cost $35,400, sans training costs.

Rainforest Recovery also listed cost data, tracking its 10 most frequent patients. Those patients cost $128,414 for just two months — August and September. While some of those patients have gone to more extensive treatment programs elsewhere, if the top 10 continued the trend for a full year those expenses would be $770,484. Rainforest also treats more than 10 patients at a time.

A representative of Bartlett Regional Hospital said she did a quick track of self-pay patients for the past year for hospital detox. Of 40 patients, she roughly estimated half were homeless, which garnered about $480,000 in costs — not including emergency room fees.

Those data are still considered draft figures.

One member of the coalition asked if it could also track for co-occurring illnesses in the people surveyed. He said there are specific treatment and service options for those that do.

Lovishchuk said she wants to have the index completed by the end of the winter — March at the latest. She said it will be a lot easier to find and talk to these people in the winter months while they are in fewer places and when there are less transients around.

“I think this is really the next concrete step that would have to get done,” she said.

Ciambor said the early data show a conservative number of $1.4 million to handle the issue.

“I think we can probably be more efficient with some of these strategies,” he said.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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