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Erik Burgess, Published September 16 2013

Fargo OKs combining detox, Gladys Ray shelter

FARGO – City commissioners here unanimously approved the city’s 2014 budget Monday night, which includes what the city’s finance director called a “modest” tax cut.

In the same vote, commissioners also approved combining the city’s alcohol detox service with the Gladys Ray Emergency Homeless Shelter, the only shelter in Fargo that allows those who stay there to be drunk.

It’s a move that city leaders hope will better address the increasing mental health and alcoholism issues in the community’s growing homeless population.

“It’s really great that we’re starting to see what we can do to get people out of this cycle instead of just doing a Band-Aid,” Commissioner Melissa Sobolik said.

The city has contracted the nonprofit Centre Inc. to run the detox center since the early 1990s. Staff at the Gladys Ray Shelter is also contracted by the city. The two services share a building at 1519 1st Ave. S., but are under different management.

City leaders from public health, planning and police made their case to commissioners Monday that the city would be better able to tackle the larger issues tied to homelessness if the detox and Gladys Ray combined under one manager and were put into the city’s public health department.

Ruth Bachmeier, public health director, said the current facility is being used more as a “sobering station” than a true detox because it doesn’t always provide access to the community’s other services that can help break the cycle of homelessness.

“It’s where people are going for a safe environment where they are able to sober up and then leave,” Bachmeier said. “For us as a community to really get to the root of the issue, we need more than what’s currently being offered.”

Police Chief Keith Ternes said 10 years ago, the city had fewer than 1,000 admissions to detox annually. Now, there are over 3,000 admissions a year. Some people are admitted several times a month, he said.

“It starts to beg the question, ‘How do we move away from just having this repetitive, revolving-door process relative to detox services?’ ” Ternes said.

The proposal passed 5-0 by commissioners to combine the two services and makes staff at the Gladys Ray full-time city employees for Fargo Cass Public Health. Jan Eliassen, the Gladys Ray director, will head the new combined facility.

Mayor Dennis Walaker showed some concern that this could attract smaller communities to start sending their ill to Fargo.

“I don’t have any problem taking care of our own, but I do have a problem with taking care of everybody because we have the facilities,” Walaker said.

Bachmeier said the city is looking at charging a fee to outside communities.

Zavoral said no budget adjustment is needed to move the services into the public health department, but he said the city may need to look to the state for some assistance by 2015.

Detox expenses in 2012 were about $460,000, and Gladys Ray Shelter costs were $363,000, city figures show.

City Commissioner Mike Williams said the move should actually save the city money in the future.

“Besides being the right thing to do, it will eventually be the smart financial thing to do because it’s proactive instead of reactive,” Williams said.

The city also held a public hearing on its 2014 budget Monday night. No residents came forward to speak, and the commission passed the budget 5-0.

The city’s 2014 budget cuts property taxes by about $8 on a $180,000 home. It also lowers the city’s wastewater from $19 a month to $16 a month.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518