For five years beginning in 2015, Santa Cruz County’s Sobering Center was a place for detainees who were under the influence of drugs, first-time DUI suspects and publicly intoxicated to sober up.
That program freed up jail space, allowed arresting officers to get back on the street quickly and kept the suspects out of emergency rooms.
But the Coronavirus pandemic–and a fire–forced the center to close in 2020. But on Thursday, county officials gathered with law enforcement and jail personnel to cut the ribbon on the new Sobering Center, located at 265 Water St., just a stone’s throw from the Main Jail.
The new facility is staffed with medical personnel trained to direct drug-addicted clients into the treatment they need, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. That’s important in a time when the opioid Fentanyl is killing growing numbers of people, he added.
“When you look at what’s killing people in this community, it’s drugs and alcohol,” he said. “We have never seen the number of overdose or drug poisonings that we’re seeing now.”
According to Hart, 81 people died in 2023 from car accidents, homicide and suicide. But a staggering 133 people died from drug overdoses.
“These numbers are off the charts,” he said. “It’s one of the highest overdose death rates in the state for a county, and it’s not getting better. It’s still surging.”
County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios said that thousands of people were diverted from the jail thanks to the previous facility. He estimates that as many as 200 people will be served by the new one.
“This facility represents a more humane way of treating those suffering from addiction,” Palacios said. “We allow them to be diverted from the jail and connected to treatment.”
The facility will be run by Janus of Santa Cruz , which provides substance use disorder treatment.
Janus Board of Directors Chair Edison Jensen said the new center will also help lessen the burden on court dockets, which are clogged with people accused of minor offenses such as being drunk in public.
“We’ve got to stop this,” he said. “We cannot continue to burden the judiciary, we cannot continue to burden the Sheriff’s Office and the jails, and we simply cannot let this public health crisis continue.”
While the $1.5 million allocated by the Board of Supervisors has been built into the county’s budget, Janus is hoping that clients’ insurance providers will help lessen that amount, says Janus CEO Amber Williams.