(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) – Drunks in Anchorage have “a safe place” – a sleep-off center that is open 24 hours a day year-round.
The Transfer Station has been in operation for about 25 years. About 40 to 45 people a day come there when they realize they need to get off the street or are brought in by police officers or by the Community Service Patrol.
Jewel Jones, the city director of health and human servides, believes that the station, also known as the sleep-off center, is successful because it does not try to do too much. She said that the goal is to keep drunks from harming themselves or others or from freezing to death in a city where winter temperatures can plunge below zero and snow sometimes falls in May.
“It’s a safe place,” Jones said. “I describe what we do as a minimal humanitarian service.”
Carrie Longuria, the Safe City program manager, said that about 25 percent of the visitors to the Transfer Station are regulars, people who come in 40 times a year or more. She said that traffic tends to be heavier in colder weather, although April, when the temperature is starting to rise, can also be a busy month. When the temperature drops to 20 degrees F police are on “absolute alert” to look for people at risk on the streets.
The station was set up after the Alaska Legislature passed a law that allows drunks to be kept in “protective custody.” Jones said that legally drunkenness is not a crime.
“These are adults,” she added. “They have a real sickness.”
She said that some cities in the Lower 48 have similar programs, but most only sweep the streets during cold-weather emergencies.
People found unconscious are supposed to be taken to a hospital emergency room first to make sure they do not have a medical problem. The station also has an EMT on duty at all times.
The station does provide counseling. Jones said that workers there try to reach people just before they leave after they are sober to give them information about detox and treatment programs. The city has a program called Homeward Bound that is open to people who have been picked up by the Community Service Patrol at least 25 times. Homeward Bound provides housing and allows residents to indulge in some moderate drinking.
“This program kind of allows people who have been drinking all their lives to maybe drink a little,” Jones said. “For this group, the really chronic inebriates, that holds a lot of promise.”
There have been some recent problems. The city now contracts out the operation of the Transfer Statino and the Community Service patrol. The contract with a for-profit company was terminated after a man who was apparently still drunk was struck and killed by a car a few minutes after he left the station.