City could use extra money from state on public intox solutions

Apr 30, 2013 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council is weighing ideas on how to use funds from the state's supplemental funding as the City of Riverton works on its 2013-14 fiscal year budget. In the beginning of the year, the city placed public intoxication, two-way communication, and public facilities on the top of its list of 2013 goals.

The direct state distribution to Riverton has increased from about $300,000 to $600,000.

Public intoxication

City administrator Steven Weaver started the discussion session by telling the council and mayor that he recently met with the Volunteers of America-Northern Rockies organization from Sheridan to address public intoxication issues in the city. The VOA --a non-profit, ministry-driven organization that provides human service programs and opportunities -- is looking to merge with the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center in Riverton.

The group said it hopes to ask the city for about $12,500 in addition to the $100,000 VOA will contribute to get the program going for the first year. The city would also contribute $100,000.

Weaver explained to the council that the VOA requests those amounts initially but over the years asks for less, as it has done in other cities in Wyoming and Montana after seeking grants and other financial help.

They're expected to finalize their merging plans by June.

"They haven't committed to merging yet, but they're close," Weaver said. "They're about 85 percent through their due diligence."

If they combine their services, both organizations will be able to provide additional services, thorough care and extensive treatment.

"I'm really excited about this group," Weaver said. "I think it's going to take us to a whole other level in what they concentrate on."

People who are arrested for public intoxication in Riverton can be taken to the crisis center, and there they can wait until they're sober while receiving other services and meals.

Council member Jonathan Faubion said he approved of providing the VOA with necessary funding.

"I think most citizens would agree that as far as being a very difficult problem, (it's) something that has perpetuated for a long time," Faubion said. "That's probably on the top of most people's list."

Weaver added that he hopes Lander also gives some input on the merger and public intoxication problem because, he said, it is "a countywide issue."

Merger advantages, disadvantages

Council member Lars Baker brought up the concern that if longer treatment were offered, the number of beds available would decrease and some of those people would have to be transported to Lander. The issue was discussed during a recent Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center board meeting.

Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead agreed and said if there are 30 vacant beds a night, then because of the extensive treatment services, it wouldn't be guaranteed that all 30 beds would be available the next night. Broadhead added that offering longer treatment may lessen the "financial burden" placed on the police department by frequent users and may provide better outcomes for those individuals.

"I think there might be some short term pain in order to make long term gain," Broadhead said. "I've seen some significant impact from these kinds of programs."

Baker emphasized the need to move from "crisis intervention to detoxification" with an essential treatment center.

Council member Mary Ellen Christensen suggested the possibility of providing funds to Charles Aragon and Dana Neil-Flint, members of a solutions committee, if they're providing some type of treatment. Aragon and Neil-Flint have shadowed homeless individuals with substance abuse problems who have agreed to get help but lacked the guidance and resources to get it. Aragon and Neil-Flint often were forced to use their own money to pay for services like hotel rooms and food once the resources from local programs were no longer available.

"They're a pretty credible duo out there in the community," she said. "They've shown positive outcomes already."

Broadhead agreed and said the committee has started a set of "talking circles" several days a week at City Park.

"They had about 10 people attend in the blizzard," he said. "It really is almost like an AA support group that they're taking to the folks in the park."

Mayor Ron Warpness said the committee hopes to meet with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to work together and let them know what the city is doing and why. The VOA also provides other services to American Indians, such as substance abuse services, outpatient services and social detoxification.

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