Large-Scale Drug Treatment Coming to the MAC?


A sign welcoming visitors to the MAC. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • A sign welcoming visitors to the MAC.
At long last, a large-scale alcohol and drug treatment facility complete with medical detox services may be coming to Humboldt County.

The Eureka City Council is slated tonight to receive a report on a proposal to add drug and alcohol treatment services to its Multiple Assistance Center, which currently serves as a homeless intake center for single adults through a program run by the Redwood Community Action Agency with funding from the county Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal is in its infancy, but tonight city staff will brief the council on plans to transition part of the center into a Substance Use Disorder Treatment Program. “The facility is proposed to contain approximately 10 individuals in detox and up to 40 individuals in the treatment program who could transition into the existing transitional housing component for a maximum of two years,” the staff report states.

If it comes to fruition, the plan would constitute the second major reshaping of the MAC in recent years. Initially opened in 2005 to serve homeless adults, the MAC ran into funding problems and transitioned in 2008 to serving homeless families only and was operating at well below its 80-bed capacity when it transitioned again in 2015 to act as kind of a homeless intake and transitional housing center under the county and Eureka’s newly adopted Housing First philosophy, which generally seeks to reduce barriers and get homeless people housed without strings attached.

Now, under the plan currently being explored, RCAA, the city and the county would bring in an additional partner, Alcohol Drug Care Services, to run a substance abuse treatment component that would potentially double the population there. The plan, according to the staff report, is the “next graduated step” in assisting homeless people with substance use disorders. It would also meet a serious demand in a county that has long been beset by addiction issues.

In 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, Humboldt ranked 56th out of California’s 58 counties in the rate of drug induced deaths, and 55th in rates of chronic liver disease, according to a recent report from the California Department of Public Health. The county currently doesn’t have a medical detox facility and in-patient treatment programs beds can be impacted, posing barriers to addicts and alcoholics getting the treatment they need.

Eureka Housing Projects Manager Melinda Petersen said the proposed program may also feature a “sobering station,” where police could place drunk in public arrests — with their consent — instead of jail. The hope, Petersen said, would be that arrestees would choose to enter treatment when sobering up.

Petersen cautioned that the plan is still taking shape, adding that tonight’s report to the council is simply to make sure it is aware of the discussions taking place. But changes at the MAC come with a tangled bureaucratic web, as the building is owned by Eureka but was built with state funding that carries ongoing restrictions, meaning the state Housing and Community Development HOME Department would have to approve any changes to the use of the building. (The staff report states it has provided a “cursory” approval of the added drug and alcohol program.)

Then, the city contracts with RCAA to run programming at the center. That contract can be canceled or modified, but only with 180 days notice. Finally, the current incarnation of the program depends on a variety of funding streams that pass through DHHS. Funding the added alcohol and substance use treatment program will almost assuredly be a hurdle.

But the hope is that a treatment program could buttress the city and county’s Housing First approach and get a portion of the chronically homeless population off the streets.

Watch tonight’s meeting online here.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct the spelling of Melinda Petersen's name and an error regarding the capacity of the MAC. The Journal regrets the errors.

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