Sobering Center brings new hope to Fairbanks’ struggle with alcoholism

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The new Tanana Chiefs Conference Sobering Center opened its doors to the public for the first time yesterday.
Today, Sarah Dubowski takes an in-depth look at what that means for a community struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
Alcohol has long been an issue in the state of Alaska, and during the early 1900's the territory began to fill up with gold miners and saloons on every corner.
Today, the state carries a grim reminder of the good-old days. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; Alaska has more than double the national rate of Alcohol-induced mortality.
With limited city and state funding, Fairbanks was in a bind on how to deal with the chronic inebriate problem.
Currently if a homeless person has been drinking and their safety from the elements is in jeopardy, law-enforcement, an ambulance or the Community Service Patrol would be called to pick them up. Then they would be taken to the Hospital or the Fairbanks Correctional Facility.
This created an expensive burden on the city and also deterred inebriates from calling for help.
Shirley Lee; Director - Sobering Center>>: "With the lack of a sobering center, people who have been drinking or who are homeless or without shelter, really did not have a safe place to go immediately. Unless they wanted to go to detox but not everybody wants to go to detox, and so we did see many people throughout the years dying from exposure to the elements."
The Tanana Chiefs Conference's Sobering Center will open its doors next week to those intoxicated.
When guests are brought to the facility, they will be given a locker to store their things then taken to an area and be given a mat, and two blankets.
People can stay at the center up to 12 hours and will be given access to a shower and laundry facilities.
The staff will monitor the guest's alcohol levels and sobered guests will be offered a screening and brief intervention to access alcohol and drug use.
Workers will then assist with referrals to appropriate services that address their disorders.
Mayor Jim Matherly; City of Fairbanks>>: "It's called the Sobering Center, but in reality it's called a life-saving center. It's going to save lives. We are going to help people who fall through the cracks. Alcohol abuse, it affects everybody, and that's the thing about alcohol, it does not discriminate, it is not an Alaska Native issue, a Caucasian issue, my message was it's not an African American issue, it's an Alaskan issue, and it's a citizen, human issue in our state.
The center is expected to soft open from 8 AM to 5 PM next week and open 24-hours a day by mid-December.
Sarah Dubowski reporting