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Solutions committee talks alternatives for citizens facing chronic problems

Feb 28, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Local agencies are taking small steps and considering big ideas to make changes for people who battle with substance abuse or have no place to call home. They're joining forces to respond more quickly and effectively to residents in the county who are in need of help.

At a solutions committee meeting Feb. 6 at Riverton City Hall, organization officials got a clearer picture of the struggles residents face when they begin to seek help.

The committee consists of community service organizations and county residents and was formed by the City of Riverton to address social issues in Riverton. Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead spearheaded the initiative and asked Dana Neil-Flint, the director of the First Stop Help Center in Lander, and Riverton Memorial Hospital Native American Patient Advocate Charles Aragon to tell committee members their ideas for better collaboration.

"I can see we can have a serious impact on the overall numbers that we're dealing with," Broadhead said about the high rate of public intoxication violations and homelessness.

He encouraged agencies to think of ideas to build a better system for communication.

Agreeing to treatment

At the meeting, Aragon and Neil-Flint told the success story of a man whose name couldn't be disclosed for confidentiality purposes.

The 53-year-old man struggled with alcoholism and was arrested numerous times for public intoxication and other violations. He finally agreed to receive help and said that his age and the choices he was making were not giving him a healthy lifestyle.

After meeting him in October, Aragon and Neil-Flint kept close contact with the man. They would meet with him constantly and plot out plans that included getting treated for a vision problem, finding his identification card, looking into future goals and enrolling him into a rehabilitation program.

Neil-Flint shared how the Eastern Shoshone Recovery Center, Indian Health Services, the Northern Arapaho Nation White Buffalo Recovery Center and other organizations helped with medical evaluations, doctor visits and paperwork. Still, some challenges remained, like finding him housing and tribal court ordered rehabilitation treatment.

"One of our biggest obstacles was trying to find a place for him to stay that was safe and sober," Aragon said.

A hotel room was the only option.

A local food bank provided food, and the United Methodist Thrift Shop, among others, provided clothing. Neil-Flint pointed out that not everybody worked positively to ensure the man received help.

Being blind in one eye led him to stumble many times while walking on the street, and the only assistance he received was from the police department.

She said some would say to her, "He has been drunk for years -- it's not going to work, Dana." Those remarks only pushed her to prove them wrong, she said. Neil-Flint said the man didn't speak positively about himself either. He would describe himself as "taking up space," she said.

Missed doctor's appointments, unavailable transportation, canceled appointments, incomplete paperwork and other factors prolonged the process. There was a lot of waiting involved and feeling hopeless and anxious made him fall back into his old habits.

He was arrested for public intoxication, but Neil-Flint said this wasn't all bad because on those nights the temperatures were below zero. Aragon and Neil-Flint continued contacting him and assuring him that there was hope.

She told the story of a woman who described him as "the drunk" as they walked into a store to obtain clothing.

"He's been listening to his community people say this to him forever," Neil-Flint said.

With the help of local services and frequent encouragement and contact, he was finally admitted into treatment this month at a facility in Utah for 45 days.

"I'm scared for him," Neil-Flint said, adding that after treatment, the man wants to go to college but further support, guidance and resources will be needed. She said they discussed plans about when he returns, and she's working toward finding him a place to live.

Mentors

"The cost isn't the road blocks that we're hitting, it's the time frame," Fremont County Public Health nurse Teresa Nirider said, adding that had the process gone smoother and quicker a lot of money would have been saved.

"We will lose them fast," Neil-Flint said about the troubled people. "Look at how time consuming it was."

"If we're gong to be going out trying to convince people to go to treatment, we got to have a function," Broadhead said.

He explained that one problem is that some people don't want to get help, and convincing them is difficult, but court-ordered treatment could be the solution in that case. He offered another look into the solution if a person finally agrees to get help.

"That's only going to happen when we're building relationships with people," he said. They agreed that a structured and organized system needs to be developed so that once a person agrees to get help everything works efficiently.

Aragon presented a draft training program that he recommended organizations look over and offer suggestions so individuals who are willing to be "coaches" can receive some kind of training and provide mentoring.

The outline suggested exploring the negative, and getting it out of the person's system -- help them release it and that too, will create a connection between the coach and the person.

Aragon added that discussing the past would help fix the future, and the coach themselves have to know how far they're willing to help, and that also needs to be communicated with the individual.

Top goal for city

At a regular Riverton city council meeting on Feb. 19, city staff confirmed that the council agreed that the number one goal for the city for 2013 was to address the public intoxication problem in the community. Broadhead said he was glad to see how far the initiative has come since it was first presented in May 2012 and that putting it at the top of the list of priorities will convey the message of support from the city.

"This idea of people being intoxicated in public is complex," he said. "Many of them are mentally ill and are suffering from addiction."

He added that the police department alone would not be able to solve the problem and putting together a team of knowledgeable and interested people would bring bigger change.

"I want to dispel the idea that this is somehow a group of rowdy individuals who are making bad choices in public. It's a problem way beyond that," Broadhead said as he addressed the council.

Broadhead went on to disseminate, to the mayor and city council, the factors associated with the actions of publicly intoxicated people.

Broadhead explained that most already have internal physical damage and are unable to make good choices for themselves and can't agree to treatment because for most of their day they're in an unstable condition thinking about the next drink. He went on to say that many times the families of these people supply them with the alcohol. He said that although he and the group is very optimistic, the problem will not be able to be solved one hundred percent because like in many cases, in households it "is the norm" to drink all day and everyday and them alone can not fix something like that.

"We'll save some people's lives and what gets lost in this conversation sometimes is that we forget that we're dealing with human beings." Broadhead said. "They may not be as well off as we are, physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially but they have all the pretensions that we have from the constitution and we need to care for that."

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Riverton City Council