Travis County commissioners approve $100,000 loan to Sobering Center of Austin

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Travis County commissioners voted unanimously July 9 to approve a $100,000 loan to the Sobering Center of Austin to cover delayed payments owed to the center by the state.

The center, which opened downtown last August, provides an alternative to the emergency room and jail for individuals who are publicly intoxicated and need to sober up. Its staff also helps patients access resources for treatment and recovery.

Last year, the Sobering Center board voted to accept federal grant funding for opioid response administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, chairperson Nancy Hohengarten told commissioners.

Although board members were concerned about whether the center could absorb the responsibilities of the grant so soon after opening, they decided to accept the funds because otherwise the area would not have received them at all, Hohengarten said.

Since then, the HHSC has delayed paying the funds to the center because of an issue with its payment system, leading to an estimated $100,000 deficit in the center’s fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

“We are asking for this loan to tide us over,” Hohengarten said, adding without it the center will have to close for particular days of the week to account for the deficit.

In addition to the cost savings the center provides by diverting individuals who are publicly intoxicated from the county jail, it also benefits the community, Hohengarten said.

“It’s a public health concern when people are this intoxicated and considering driving their cars home, walking home,” she said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty expressed concern about the budget deficit while acknowledging the state’s role in this particular situation.

“The money is not a big deal to me. What’s the big deal to me is where this organization is going,” Daugherty said. “If this is an indication of what is going on here, then I’m going to jump off this ship.”

Hohengarten said the center is fulfilling its mission to divert people from the county jail as well as from area emergency rooms.

“I think this time next year, you’ll be sold on keeping the Sobering Center alive and well,” she told Daugherty.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the first couple years for any nonprofit is “a rocky time” but affirmed the county’s commitment to the center.

“This is what county governance is about—having the financial flexibility to manage the unexpected, and we have a little of the unexpected here,” she said.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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