It took Mayor G.T. Bynum a few snips of the oversized scissors to cut the blue ribbon at Tuesday’s opening of the Tulsa Sobering Center.
How apropos. It’s taken Tulsa a few tries to finally establish the center, a point the mayor noted early in his remarks.
“It is exciting because it’s something that people have been talking about for a while, but it took leadership in this community pulling together across the silos — that I think we’re all too often assumed to be within — to make it happen,” Bynum said. “It also represents the belief that we can do better than just putting folks in jail.”
The Sobering Center opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Hardesty Wing of 12&12. The nonprofit substance abuse treatment center is located at 6333 E. Skelly Drive.
The Sobering Center is designed to give people detained by police for public intoxication a place to sleep off their high and — more importantly, officials say — get help.
Bynum noted that for too long public intoxication has been treated like any other crime, with no consideration for the underlying reasons that cause someone to abuse alcohol or drugs.
“Today marks the end of that approach,” Bynum said. “Today marks a better path forward where the city of Tulsa partnered with knowledgeable people in the nonprofit sector who can help our neighbors in need.”
The center will operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with 25 cots for males and 17 cots for females.
Those dropped off at the center must stay at least 10 hours but no more than 12. They will have access to a shower and will be given scrubs to sleep in.
The Sobering Center is only for public intoxication. Individuals arrested for driving under the influence, or who face other crimes in addition to public intoxication, will be brought to jail.
Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Brooks said the center will accomplish three things at once: most importantly, help people; save the city and those delivered to the center money; and get officers back on the streets more quickly.
Individuals save money by avoiding the expensive court process, while the city saves money by not having to lock up people in jail, Brooks said. Police, meanwhile, will spend just a few minutes dropping individuals off at the Sobering Center, whereas booking someone into jail can take hours.
“They (inebriated individuals) come here, they don’t have to get a criminal record, they don’t have to worry about jail, bond court fines. … Jail is not the place for them — it’s right here,” Brooks said. “This is true jail diversion.”
Brooks said Tulsa’s Sobering Center will be the best in the nation, offering counseling services and medical detox services — for those eligible — that can’t be found anywhere else. The center’s continuum of care will extend beyond the services offered by 12&12 once Oklahoma State University’s addiction clinic opens next door.
“This is the next level,” Brooks said. “People are going to be coming to Tulsa wondering what we did here, right now, and how they can inspire their city.”
The Sobering Center will be operated by 12&12 staff. The police’s role will be to simply drop off the individual at the center. Once a person’s stay is completed, he or she must be picked up from the center. No one will be allowed to walk back onto the streets. Those without transportation will be given a taxi token, and those without a place to call home will be directed to local shelters.
“The exciting part for us is, this is our mission,” said Bryan Day, chief executive officer of 12&12. “This gets (us) to do exactly what we love doing, which is helping those in our community who are suffering.”
The city is providing $250,000 this year to operate the Sobering Center. Construction of the center was paid for by the Hardesty Family Foundation.
Michelle Hardesty said the foundation was proud to be part of the effort to address the addiction problems that so often lead to homelessness, domestic violence and other societal ailments.
“Until we address this underlying issue, we will be very hard-pressed to solve many of these other matters that are tearing up the fabric of our community and society,” she said.