There soon may be no place to take the homeless drunks stumbling or passing out in downtown Spokane.
The city’s only detox center for street people is in such deep debt it’s closing at the end of June, the center announced Wednesday.
Brian McManus looked confused at the news. The heavily tattooed 34-year-old was sober after a couple of nights at the center. It’s the second time the place had rescued him.
“If it wasn’t there, I’d be dead by now.”
Shutting down the Spokane Care Services center at 165 S. Howard creates expensive and complex problems for Spokane hospital, ambulance, police and fire officials.
It also causes potential headaches for local government.
The county is required to provide a detox center. And the city ultimately is responsible for a $400,000 loan it helped the center get from the federal government.
The detox center’s financial woes have been mounting for a while. Last year, the center’s board was overhauled after a county study detailed financial and management abuses. Six months ago, the center warned it would close at the end of June if it didn’t get more cash.
The center’s announcement Wednesday was clearly a last-ditch plea to rally the community to save the center.
Center leaders say they need about $250,000 to survive another year after falling far shy of their budget goal. They requested $1.2 million over two years from the state but got only $780,000, the same amount they got in 1993. The center also gets about another $300,000 a year from federal and city grants.
The demand for services grows as the center has fallen months behind in its mortgage payments and other bills. The center owes one food provider $20,000.
“It’s really suffered from inadequate funding for a real long time,” said Ronald Springel, president of the center’s board. “It can’t go on that way. It would just be foolish. It’s a community problem. It needs a community solution.”
Bill Pupo, assistant city manager, said he hopes the crisis is resolved before the center closes. But he also said the city is not interested in entering the detox business. “It’s a problem that can’t be ignored. But it’s not the city’s problem.”
The detox center’s van often scoops up 25 drunks in an evening. More than 2,000 people checked into the center last year, usually taking the allowed three-day reprieve that includes modern hospital beds and meals.
“It would be a burden on the entire community” if the center closes, said David Byrnes, medical service officer for the Spokane Fire Department.
Byrnes said that without the center’s downtown van service, the police and fire department would have to respond to more emergency calls.
Jim Huntley’s been driving the detox van for 16 years. He knows many of the people he picks up. He’s carried a lot into the emergency rooms. A few have died on him before he got there.
When people call 911 because someone passes out in their yard, Huntley responds. If someone is drunk and cussing in a grocery store, Huntley is there, too. “If I know them I can at least get them out of there.”
A gentle, barrel-chested man, Huntley said he was recently trained to be an emergency medical technician. He said the van was supposed to get equipped with more medical gear. Now one of his only medicinal tools is a can of Glade Country Breeze air freshener.
Huntley helped a gaunt, woozy woman out of the van Wednesday afternoon at the emergency room for Sacred Heart Medical Center.
He signed her in and came to her side to tell her she’d get in soon, and that he’d be back for her after she got checked out.
Later in the afternoon, Huntley transported three alcoholics who had spent a few days at the center and hoped to kick the juice.
One man said if it wasn’t for the center he’d still be living under the Sullivan Street Bridge considering suicide.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo