Funding Worries Loom as Hooper Center Celebrates 40th Anniversary

In particular, the county-funded CHIERS van, which takes intoxicated people to Hooper to sober up, has reduced its hours and may run out of money before the end of the year

September 12, 2012 -- In the early 1970s, anywhere between 400 and 500 chronically homeless people – most men, most addicted to alcohol or opiates – called the streets of inner Northwest Portland home. They cycled in and out of the jail system, arrested again and again on charges of public inebriation.

Then public drunkenness was decriminalized in Portland along with many other cities, according to Ed Blackburn, executive director of Central City Concern.

“In 1972, there was a federal act that we offer financial support to organizations that decriminalized public inebriation,” he said. Multnomah County received funding to open the Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center, which served as an alternative to drunk tanks in jails – to help people addicted to alcohol and drugs turn their lives around.

Hooper was named after the last person to die in jail after being arrested for public intoxication. His name was David P. Hooper, and he grew up in McMinnville, showing promise as a young athlete and aspiring toward a career in politics. But Hooper struggled with alcoholism throughout his adult life, and was arrested 93 times for alcohol-related offenses.

In 1982, a group called the Burnside Consortium – which later became the Central City Concern – took over management of the Hooper Center, which celebrated its 40th anniversary Monday night.

Early on, Blackburn said, most people coming into Hooper for detox were “chronic street inebriates,” and admissions numbered around 18,000 or 19,000 per year – mainly people who lived on the streets. Readmissions were common.

Now, the center admits about 6,000 people per year. “For the first time, the majority are not people who are chronically homeless" and the readmission rate has dropped, Blackburn said.

One major change was that in the mid-1980s, Central City Concern started providing drug- and alcohol-free transitional housing. The organization also started to branch into offering mental health treatment and complementary and allopathic healthcare in an attempt to break the revolving door.

Richard Harris, the first director of Hooper, who’s now the assistant director for mental health at the Department of Human Services, spoke at Monday’s celebration.

“There are thousands of people who are in recovery because of Hooper Center,” he said, noting the changes over the years, including removal of the chain link fence that surrounded the center until 1982.

Andy Davidson, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, told the crowd that Oregon's hospitals see addiction treatment as a fundamental health need, partly because of the savings in treating addiction rather than dealing with the chronic health problems and economic losses than can result. He supports Hooper as a way of honoring his brother, who entered private, in-patient recovery 28 years ago following a cocaine overdose.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz talked about her experience as a registered nurse, with the bulk of her nursing career spent in the psychiatric ward at Oregon Health & Science University. Over time, she said, more and more people were admitted to the emergency room rather than the psychiatric ward due to a shortage of beds.

She also called for people whose lives have been affected by the CHIERS van – an EMT-staffed van that takes intoxicated people to Hooper to sober up – to contact Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen or herself with their stories. The van is funded by the county, but had to reduce hours in July due to budget cuts. The van may not have sufficient funding to remain operational the rest of this year, but Fritz says she’s committed to finding additional revenue.

Hooper's model has, in the last several years, been replicated in other cities – including Boise, San Francisco and Sacramento – because it’s been so effective. “I think, ironically, Hooper is more relevant today than it was 40 years ago,” Blackburn said.

Image for this story courtesy of Central City Concern.

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