Pubdate: Sun, 02 Jun 2002
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2002 The State
Bookmark: (Treatment)


On any given day in Columbia, homeless men with substance-abuse problems 
end up in emergency rooms to receive expensive medical care they can't pay for.

Those same homeless men often cause problems for downtown businesses and 
safety concerns for downtown residents, say business and government officials.

But a group of area civic and business leaders says an innovative program 
in Raleigh, N.C., can help Columbia's growing number of homeless men 
dealing with substance abuse.

The Healing Place of Wake County is a recovery and rehabilitation program 
that works. The program has a 70 percent success ratemore than two-thirds 
of people who graduate from the program are clean and sober and off the 
streets after one year.

The business and civic leaders who saw The Healing Place in April on an 
intercity visit with the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce would like to 
see it replicated locally.

"That was the singular most impressive solution to a problem that I have 
ever seen," said Dale Boozer, chairman of Boozer Lumber Co. "It was a total 
solution They had the right attitude, they had the right staff, the right 
facility, the right program and they had the right results. I don't know 
how you could ever top that as a community solution."

The results are so impressive that a return visit to The Healing Place is 
being organized to include all the members of Columbia City Council, 
representatives of the Oliver Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army, which 
both serve the homeless in Columbia, as well as others involved in alcohol 
and drug abuse services.

A 2001 study by the Midlands Commission on the Homeless found an estimated 
4,500 homeless people in the Columbia area, not all men. Counting homeless 
people is difficult, since homelessness is often temporary, and the number 
of homeless men has been estimated at a few hundred in Columbia proper.

Most shelters will not take in a person who is intoxicated. Frequently, the 
only alternative is the hospital emergency room. Because most of them are 
indigent, they wind up with costly medical care at hospital expense.

The emergency rooms at Palmetto Richland and Palmetto Baptist often are 
where homeless substance abusers wind up.

It costs a minimum of $371 daily to treat an alcohol dependent person in 
the emergency room of Palmetto Baptist or Palmetto Richland hospital, 
according to hospital spokeswoman Judy Cotchett Smith. The Healing Place 
figures its cost at $25 per day.

City officials have been concerned for some time about the homeless 
problem, especially downtown. City Council will hold a public hearing June 
12 "convening the beginnings of some continual dialogue on what we are 
going to do in the area of the homeless," said city manager Leona Plaugh.

Council members are interested in The Healing Place because it offers a 
solution that includes dealing with problem, not just offering a place to 
dry out.

Among the top causes of homelessness are alcohol and drug addiction. One of 
the commission's recommendations was the establishment of a "sobering 
center" for inebriates who aren't accepted at other shelters and often end 
up in emergency rooms.

The Healing Place, which is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model, takes 
the sobering center concept to another level.
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