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County’s First Detox Center to Open in San Leandro

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday July 06, 2007

Alameda County’s first detox center is scheduled to open in November in San Leandro, although Berkeley and UC Berkeley officials had pushed for a center closer to home. 

The announcement of the new facility was part of an update by the county’s Behavioral Health Care Service to the People’s Park Advisory Board meeting Monday. 

The center, located on the grounds of the Alameda County Medical Center’s Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, involves renovating the existing buildings at the Fairmont campus to meet the program needs. Services will include a sobering station, a detoxification program, and 24-hour-a-day transport vans. 

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who worked with the Telegraph Area Association and Telegraph Avenue business owners, residents and homeless advocates to prepare a report detailing Berkeley’s needs for a detox program, said he was glad to see the county center would soon be open despite its distance from Berkeley. 

“The idea was to get a detox facility in the Telegraph area,” he said. “We discovered it was possible to have a bigger budget if we did it in cooperation with the county. We wanted to get a site near Telegraph Avenue but we couldn’t come up with anything. Oakland didn’t work out either. By that time the project had become a countywide effort, and so we ended up in San Leandro.” 

Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley community relations director, said the location was not convenient. “We have a lot of cases at People’s Park who are dependent on substances,” she said. “People had hoped that it would be something in Berkeley.” 

The People’s Park Advisory Board has also urged the university to look at providing more homeless services for the last few years. 

“Maybe the university’s academic resources could also be used in some way,” Hegarty said. 

Worthington said the important thing was not where the center was located but that it’s a joint venture which will help all the cities in Alameda County. 

“I still have a goal of having a detox in Berkeley,” he said. “I don’t see the one in San Leandro as a substitute for that, but it’s definitely a step towards the right direction. Having one in San Leandro is better than not having one in Alameda County at all. There’s a significant number of homeless people in Berkeley who need or want a detox center immediately.” 

Mental Health Commissioner Michael Diehl, who works with the homeless in People’s Park, said that it would be good if the detox center in San Leandro put emphasis on helping drug addicts. 

“Right now the focus is more on alcohol,” he said. “I want to see more stuff happening with respect to hard drugs.”’ 

Measure A was passed by Alameda County voters in March 2003, authorizing additional funding for community health care services and continued financial support for the Alameda County Medical Center. About $2 million was allocated from Measure A funds for the current project in 2004. 

The 2000 Tobacco Master Settlement Hearings and the implementation of the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (Prop. 36) paved the way for new detoxification services. The county carried out a detoxification study in 2003 to determine the types of detoxification programs that could be added.  

According to the study, most people wanted the location to be in Oakland and not in the northern part of the county. The general consensus was that “anyone who needs help with detoxification should be able to get that help and that access should be easy as possible.” 

Access priorities included walk ins, local police and BHCS case managers bringing in individuals and those referred to by the John George Pavilion staff. Alcohol, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and poly-substanceswere ranked by counselors as the most prevalent addictive substance in the county and the ones that caused the most severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Participants ranked medical support, shelter, and social support as the top three “most needed” services. 

The sobering center will be a resource for many among Telegraph’s homeless population since it aims to serve low-income and indigent residents from Alameda County who suffer from alcohol and substance abuse. Fifty people would be able to stay for up to six hours in what has been described in the BHCS recommendation as a “very sparse environment consisting of plain cement floors with sleeping mats.” Clients will be encourage to enter intervention programs which will help rid them of chemical dependency. 

The Social Model Detoxification program, located close by, will be an all-hour 50-bed facility. It includes a comprehensive intervention program including process groups, accommodations for non-English speakers, 12-step or similar support groups and post-detox planning, placement and referral.