With a snip of the ceremonial scissors and the declaration “This is God’s business, I believe,” Jeff Walters, a lieutenant with the Salvation Army, inaugurated the 24-bed detox and rehab operation that began last week at its digs on lower Chapala Street. What makes these beds important is that they will be available to low-income and otherwise able-bodied men and women, who — but for their addictions — would be ineligible for government assistance to cover the cost of such treatment. For Santa Barbara County, the effects of this change — which went into effect last December — are expected to be monumental.
The program — known by the acronym AOD, which stands for “alcohol or other drug” treatment — now has 93 beds county wide, with 36 in South County. Thanks to a $4 million contract approved by county supervisors last week, the Salvation Army will be offering 24 of them for as long as 90 days. County substance-abuse phone lines receive 250 calls a week. Getting inebriates clean and sober has been part of the Salvation Army’s mission since 1898, when volunteers cruised London streets in wagons looking for likely candidates. Those who leapt off before reaching their final destination were said to have “fallen off the wagon.”
For the supervisors and city council-members on hand, the gap in treatment available to those with no to low incomes has been a huge problem for more than 30 years. The AOD program, they hope, will help make services available to the homeless and mentally ill. Their presence in public places poses both a moral and public health challenge, and a public relations nightmare for the tourist-friendly South Coast.
The Salvation Army takes in 270 guests a year at Chapala Street, 69 at any given time. As of last week ceremony, five guests had already signed up for the new treatment beds; the treatment includes “withdrawal management” — formerly known as detox — and rehabilitation. On hand will be a couple of licensed marriage and family certified therapists, eight alcohol and drug treatment counselors, and other direct service staff.