Indianapolis police often respond to disturbance calls about people struggling with homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues by taking them to jail or the emergency room.
Downtown Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers have a third option: bringing people to the Reuben Engagement Center, a detox facility that offers temporary care and connects people to long-term recovery resources.
The Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety and IMPD announced the pilot program Thursday that will get people help rather than put them behind bars. It is the first non-jail and non-hospital option for IMPD officers in Indianapolis, according to a news release from the public health office.
“Connecting individuals to the treatment that would help them meet their goals would be more of a benefit than taking them to jail,” said Brandy McCord, the Reuben Engagement Center’s new executive director.
If the pilot program works well with Downtown police in the next six months, public health and safety director Paul Babcock said, it will roll out to the rest of Marion County.
The center opened its 30-bed facility in January 2017 with $750,000 from the estate of Lawrence Reuben, a local attorney and activist, and $563,000 in city funds.
For the past year and a half homeless advocacy organizations have referred clients to the center. But the vision for the place always has been to partner with police, said Alan Witchey, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention. The program is voluntary. People who are homeless must be willing to go through detox at the center.
“The great thing about this police program is that it is really another leg to the stool,” Witchey said. “It helps the police do the work they need to do, which is focusing on the community. And these clients are really very rarely a danger to the community that are being diverted there. They’re just in a place that there was nowhere else to go.”
Clients entering the Reuben Engagement Center are medically evaluated, showered, fed and given a bed to rest. The center then connects them to recovery programming, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and housing facilities.
“We make sure they are safe while they are working on their withdrawal, and then we have resource coordinators that meet with them,” McCord said.
Out of the 1,783 people experiencing homelessness in Marion County, 57 percent of the adults had physical, mental or developmental disabilities, according to a 2017 report from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.
“They might be intoxicated in a public place. They might be trespassing. They might be … being someplace where they shouldn’t be. And that ends up in a police arrest, and so frequently that has led to time in jail,” Witchey said. “It’s not the best way to use resources because most often they aren’t somebody who is committing a significant crime. They are really in need of … detox and treatment.”
The Reuben Engagement Center is housed on the second floor of the Arrestee Processing Center on East Market Street. The 11,000-square-foot open space is divided into sleeping and living sections by short walls. Ten beds are allocated for women and 20 for men. Between the two sleeping areas, clients sit together at tables, watch movies, read books and play board games.