OGDEN — Instead of going to jail, some intoxicated homeless people picked up by Ogden police now may be dropped off at the Lantern House shelter.
“If they’re just impaired, they just need a safe environment,” said Ogden Police Capt. Danielle Croyle.
Ogden City and Lantern House recently signed a memorandum of understanding outlining when and how a person intoxicated by alcohol or drugs may be delivered to the shelter.
“The police can bring in people who are inebriated and unable to take care of themselves,” said Jay Stretch, Lantern House director. “They don’t have to go to the hospital and to jail. This will save the community quite a bit of money.”
Croyle said police initiated the arrangement as part of efforts to marshal community resources to the homeless problem, which has blossomed over the past two years due to higher housing costs and the effects of the Operation Rio Grande crackdown in Salt Lake City.
Police and jail budgets are strained dealing with the homeless, and hospital emergency rooms can become clogged, often needlessly, Stretch said.
Croyle said police also work with Weber Human Services to find the best way to handle a homeless person who may be suicidal or be experiencing some other mental health crisis.
“We can’t be all things to everyone,” Croyle said.
Officers already must judge whether an intoxicated person needs hospitalization or should be arrested due to combativeness or some other public safety concern, Croyle said.
Now, if neither condition applies, the person is a candidate to be taken to the shelter.
“We’re looking for alternatives to incarceration,” Croyle said. “If we can handle some of these things in other ways it doesn’t tie up ambulances and law enforcement.”
Once an intoxicated person arrives at the shelter, “We keep an eye on them and they can sleep it off,” Stretch said.
Shelter staff members are not medical professionals but they have been trained to administer the opioid overdose rescue drug, naloxone, Stretch said.
The person may be observed for up to three days, and during daytime hours the staff may ask a medical professional from the Midtown Health Center’s Hope Clinic, upstairs at the shelter, to check on the person.
If an emergency occurs, paramedics and police can be at the shelter within minutes, Stretch said.
Lantern House also will offer the person shelter services or refer him or her to other community help. Plus, there’s no police custody, jail booking or criminal prosecution.
For behavioral health matters, Lantern House has six beds donated by McKay-Dee Hospital.
The hospital has a team assigned to coordinate with Lantern House to send certain homeless patients to the shelter after they’ve been assessed in the emergency room or mental health unit, said Kristy Jones, Intermountain Healthcare’s community health area manager.
The arrangement frees up beds at the hospital and saves the hospital money, Stretch said, while Lantern House assigns case managers to work with the patients and point them to other community services.
Stretch said McKay-Dee also has provided a medical bed to the shelter for use by a homeless person to recover from surgery after discharge from the hospital. The hospital sends home care nurses to change bandages and do other checks, he said.