Jan 15, 2013

Multi-faceted approach for chronic inebriates

From collaborative courts to "wet houses" to a revamped Mobile Assistance Patrol, the City and County San Francisco is putting forth a multi-faceted approach to its problem with chronic inebriates.

S.F. has many ideas on handling drunks 
By Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle

We've got to give credit to San Francisco city officials. When their plan to handle chronically drunk homeless people was tossed out by a judge, they didn't merely opt to drown their sorrows in a stiff drink.

They've got several other creative ideas, including jury trials for the chronic inebriates, a wet house where alcoholics can continue to drink on-site, a revamped outreach program and even a pilot program to test an injectable drug that could make alcoholics not want to drink.

Earlier this month, a state appeals court quashed the city's four-month effort to get chronic inebriates, most of them homeless, into treatment by threatening them with jail for contempt if they repeatedly fail to show up in court. The idea, led by the San Francisco Superior Court and District Attorney George Gascón, was to arrest those who'd been cited at least 20 times for public drunkenness or other low-level offenses, put them in jail and tell them they were in contempt of court for not showing up all the previous times. Threatened with jail for five days per no-show, most offenders agreed to enter treatment instead.

But the state appeals court said somebody can't be held in contempt of court just for violating his or her own promise to appear in court, even if they'd signed the back of each citation saying they agreed to appear.

Score one for Public Defender Jeff Adachi who challenged the program, saying it was unconstitutional and illegal.

"We're eager to participate in the next possible steps," Adachi said. "We were excluded last time from the design of the court, and we would have pointed out these problems had we been at the table."

So what options does the city have to deal with the chronically drunk homeless people who bother residents and tourists, cycle in and out of jail, cost the city up to $13 million a year in emergency services and aren't doing themselves any favors either? Plenty, it seems.

For starters, Gascón said that within about a week, he'll switch his method to one in which the defendants can choose between a jury trial and accepting services - similar to the idea behind the successful Community Justice Center in the Tenderloin.

"The only tool we have is to file charges. I'm hoping the majority of them will actually take the service offer," Gascón said, saying the status quo cannot continue. "These are people who are decomposing in our streets right in front of our eyes. Some of them eventually die in the streets, and I don't think there's anything humane about this."

Click here to read the full article.

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