Mayor Annise Parker held a press conference at 11:00 AM today (Mar 7) at the new Houston Recovery Center (aka Houston Sobering center) at 150 N. Chenevert to announce the opening of the center and symbolically cut the ribbon at the entrance. The ceremony marked the completion of the renovation of the building.
Mayor Parker attributed the idea for the sobering center to Vice Mayor Pro tem Ed Gonzalez. He viewed a similar facility in San Antonio with a group of Houston officials including Leonard Kincaid, now the director of the center. However, after further research, the model chosen was the program in Portland, Oregon.
“This is an innovative solution to a costly problem that diverts our police from other matters and crowds the city jail,” said Mayor Parker. “It is the first step toward the city’s long-term goal of getting out of the jail business. My goals are reduced costs, easing of jail overcrowding and safer streets. My hope for the individuals who wind up here is real change in their lives.”
The sobering center is meant to be an alternative to jail for people whose only offense is public intoxication, allowing them to regain sobriety in a safe, medically-monitored environment. Once detainees are sober, they will meet with professional counselors who will offer long-term treatment referrals to appropriate social service agencies. By not booking these offenders into the city jail, officers are able to return to their neighborhood patrols more quickly.
“With the opening of this center, Houston has adapted a more humane response to those with mental illness who are homeless and those with addiction disorders,” said Houston Recovery Center Board Chair Kay Austin.
HRC Director Leonard Kincaid said, “The center will provide an intervention and education experience for all who visit us and a pathway to recovery for those with substance abuse disorders.”
The new 84-bed facility is located in a two-story building at 150 North Chenevert Street. However, some GPS navigators apparently have difficulty finding it. To reach the address, follow Chenevert north from Commerce St past the Star of Hope Men's facility and take the ramp in the right lane that curves toward the back of Star of Hope. It will be managed by a local government corporation created last year by Houston City Council. Annual operating costs are expected to be $1.5 million, compared to the $4 – 6 million it currently costs to process public intoxication cases at the city jail.
It is expected the sobering center will formally begin accepting detainees in the next few weeks. Mr. Kincaid stated that the exact date will depend on the completion of relatively minor administrative matters. It is an option only for those who have committed no other crime and have no outstanding warrants. There are separate facilities for both men and women. For now, 20% of the beds cots are in the women's section and 80% in the men's area. Kincaid stated that statistics from the Houston Police Department showed that generally, 80% of the persons arrested for public intoxication in Houston are males. Several members of the Sobering center staff are bilingual (Spanish- English) and one speaks Vietnamese and English.
The second floor of the building is the new home of the Houston Police Department’s mental health unit.