Sedgwick Co. considering Texas idea to combat drug and alcohol abuse among homeless

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Sedgwick County officials say overcrowding at the jail is eating away at the county budget and something has to be done to fix it. 

That’s where a new plan, one that’s already working in Texas, comes in.  

Recently a group of county officials and some other City of Wichita representatives took a trip to San Antonio and what they found there they believe can solve a variety of issues in Sedgwick County and save them some room in the jail — and a whole lot of money. 

Drug abuse, alcohol abuse and homelessness. Those are the issues at hand. 

“We have got to think of it in different ways to try and address those issues and try to get people back on their feet,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. 

Arresting people who are facing those issues isn’t solving the problem.  

“Last year we had an individual in here with mental health issues who was booked in here 27 times in one year,” explained Sheriff Easter. 

That’s a small scale look at the bigger problem. Running a jail is expensive. 

“It is right around 37 million of our 55 million dollar budget,” said Easter. 

Recently, Easter returned from a trip to San Antonio with County Commissioner David Dennis and several others. What they found in Texas gave them a vision for Wichita. 

“It is more than amazing,” said Easter.

“They are able to treat the problem where it exists,” added County Commissioner David Dennis. “Rather than treat what happens after the problem.”

The idea is called the Haven for Hope and it has become a national model for treating mental illness and substance abuse. 

It’s much like a college campus, where people suffering from a wide variety of illnesses can get the long-term treatment they need, instead of being thrown back into the jail system.

The model is something Sheriff Easter says would save the county a significant amount of money in jail costs and hospital costs and gets people back on their feet. 

“What they are seeing in San Antonio is a drop in their crime rates,” explained Sheriff Easter. “A drop in their jail populations which is expensive and less folks going to prison.”

Right now the sheriff is writing a grant to help hire someone to dedicate themselves to finding out what resources it would take to bring a campus like that to Wichita. 

He says they are a long way away but are taking serious steps to making it a reality. 

The San Antonio facility cost more than $100 million. But the sheriff says it wouldn’t be that expensive in Sedgwick County, but would still come at a high price. 

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