Sobering center closure pushes people to sober up in emergency rooms

VIDEO: Closure over sober center leaving people without place to go

Seattle — The closure of a sobriety center in Seattle and delayed plans to open a new one is leaving people with nowhere to go.

The problem is adding pressure on Seattle's hospitals, especially emergency rooms.

“We absolutely see we have a gap in services right now and we need to get that gap closed,” said Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services.

Content Continues Below

The sobering center in South Lake Union on Boren Avenue has been shut down for months. It's now becoming a 10-story office tower.

The center was supposed to relocate to Georgetown, but the plans for that site halted.

People who used to find refuge, a place to sleep and services at the sobering center now have few options.

And so, King County's Emergency Service Patrol, will bring them to an emergency room.

“There is no doubt that for some people, the emergency room isn't the right intervention, but where we have to make a choice, we're always going to default on what's safest at that time,” Flor said.

Doctor Nancy Sugg frequently works with the city's at-risk population.

“Clients down in the sobering center - they have lost their community, they have lost a place where they can go for help,” Sugg said.

And she said the situation is taking up hospital beds, adding pressure to already crowding emergency rooms.

Scroll down to continue reading

More news from KIRO 7

“An emergency room is for emergencies. So when it's being used to safely allow people to sober up, that's one more bed that's taken up. It’s another nurse that’s being taken away from their primary responsibility,” Sugg said.

The Georgetown neighborhood said it was blindsided by plans to relocate the sobering center there.

KIRO7 was there at public meeting in February -- where angry residents demanded answers.

“Why not a community impact study?” one speaker asked.

“We are struggling with a huge, huge crime problem right now in Georgetown,” another speaker said.

People in the neighborhood also pointed out the new location is far from services, and close to alcohol.

“There is no transportation being proposed to be provided to those folks to get them out of Georgetown, and it's full of bars,” said Ruth Keating, a Georgetown business owner.

King County said they had plans to increase transportation to and from Georgetown, and bring medical and other services to the neighborhood.

But the Georgetown Neighborhood Alliance filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, and the Community Psychiatric Clinic, the group King County contracted to handle the location.

An attorney behind the lawsuit said they want the construction permit for this site, to be pulled -- and for the city to conduct an impact study.

King County says it's in talks with the CPC to get it figured out, hopefully before the weather gets cold.

“We are dedicated, as quickly as possible, to finding a place to restore services that've worked really well in this community for 20 years,” Flor said.

Demand for the sobering center can double in the winter, and all of the old center’s 60 beds fill up to capacity in the fall-winter season.