Tak­ing Treat­ment Mes­sage to the Streets

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - By Lori Aratani

It’s a week­day af­ter­noon and the streets are damp from a sud­den down­pour when county em­ploy­ees Frank Lock­man and An­gela Sluza­lis set out on their rounds. Lock­man eases their spe­cially out­fit­ted white Chevy Im­pala onto the road, and the two be­gin to map out a plan. They’ll swing by a cou­ple of hot spots and drop by a soup kitchen.

The plex­i­glass en­clo­sure in the Im­pala’s back seat — a pre­cau­tion in the event a pas­sen­ger be­comes un­ruly — the box of la­tex gloves and the san­i­tary wipes hint that theirs is no or­di­nary job. What will hap­pen this par­tic­u­lar evening is any­body’s guess; the team will spend the next sev­eral hours cruis­ing the south­east part of Mont­gomery County, at­tempt­ing to coax al­co­holics and ad­dicts into treat­ment.

Just south of New Hamp­shire Av­enue and Univer­sity Boule­vard, Lock­man pulls into a shop­ping cen­ter.

“This is ‘The Beach’ ,” Lock­man said. They cir­cle the area and no­tice two men hang­ing out. One is chat­ting on a cell­phone; on a nearby ce­ment block is a can of beer. The men eye them war­ily as the car passes.

The Beach is one place where peo­ple come to drink and where they some­times get rowdy and pass out. For the pair, it has be­come one tar­get of a new approach of­fi­cials in Mary­land’s largest county are tak­ing to com­bat what busi­ness own­ers say is a grow­ing nui­sance: pub­lic drunk­en­ness.

Sev­eral times a week, Lock­man and Sluza­lis will cruise by this place and oth­ers where peo­ple tend to con­gre­gate and drink. It’s a tough task, try­ing to build trust with a pop­u­la­tion leery of of­fi­cial­dom. They will sweet-talk. They will ca­jole. They will shake hands, lis­ten to sto­ries and of­fer help. They will tell peo­ple that there’s a warm bed wait­ing for them. And even if the an­swer is no, they will keep go­ing back to them, over and over again.

Those who ac­cept the help will be taken to the hospi­tal for eval­u­a­tion; if cleared, the pair will take them to the Avery Road Treat­ment Cen­ter. Once there, they’ll be eval­u­ated and pos­si­bly ad­mit­ted for treat­ment.

The approach is be­ing tried in other com­mu­ni­ties across the United States, in­clud­ing San Diego and Santa Fe, N.M. Now it’s be­ing tested in Mont­gomery.

“Rather than re­move peo­ple for a small pe­riod of time and see them come back, we’re try­ing to solve the prob­lem,” said Phil An­drews (D-Gaithers­burg-Rockville), who chairs the County Coun­cil’s Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee. “We’re try­ing to give peo­ple the chance to re­cover, which in the long run will be cheaper in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to lock them up.”

Busi­ness own­ers say drunken peo­ple scare away cus­tomers. But it’s not a crime in Mary­land to be drunk in pub­lic, so they say they had dif­fi­culty ad­dress­ing the prob­lem. Some are hope­ful about the county’s new ef­fort.

“We’re fully in fa­vor of what they’re do­ing,” said Er­win H. Mack, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Takoma/Lan­g­ley Cross­roads De­vel­op­ment Author­ity, who has pushed county of­fi­cials for years to find a so­lu­tion. “One of our goals has long been recog­ni­tion of this prob­lem.”

Of­fi­cials in Fair­fax County, which has a Di­ver­sion Out­reach Pro­gram with sim­i­lar goals, say their ef­fort has freed po­lice to fo­cus on more se­ri­ous is­sues. Larry Pea­cock, di­rec­tor of the Fair­fax Detox­i­fi­ca­tion Cen­ter, said peo­ple are seek­ing treat­ment. Since July 2006, 355 clients have been brought through the pro­gram. Of those, more than half have re­ceived treat­ment, he said.

In Mont­gomery, where of­fi­cials launched the $310,000 pro­gram late last month, two beds at the Avery Road Cen­ter have been set aside for those will­ing to en­ter treat­ment.

“This is a more so­phis­ti­cated ef­fort,” said Ge­orge L. Leven­thal (D-At Large), who chairs the coun­cil’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and who spear­headed the ef­fort to cre­ate the pilot pro­gram, which will be eval­u­ated in six months. “We’re try­ing to con­nect will­ing peo­ple with ser­vices, to get them into treat­ment. This is a crit­i­cal prob­lem which is re­ally in­ter­fer­ing with the suc­cess of busi­nesses.”

Lock­man and Sluza­lis, who work from 2 p.m. to mid­night, four days a week, have yet to be is­sued their uni­forms (white polo shirts and khakis) and busi­ness cards, but they have al­ready made con­nec­tions with com­mu­nity groups and po­ten­tial clients. Of­fi­cials hope to hire a third out­reach worker and ex­pand the out­reach pro­gram to six days.

Al­ready, they’ve had some suc­cess. Two peo­ple have en­tered treat­ment pro­grams as a re­sult of their ef­forts. As the weather warms and word be­gins to cir­cu­late about the pro­gram, they hope those num­bers will grow.

For Lock­man, who has worked in the field of sub­stance abuse treat­ment for more than a decade, this mis­sion is also per­sonal. Lock­man is a for­mer vet­eran who spent time liv­ing on the streets of Skid Row in Los An­ge­les.

“I just know for my­self, I might not have been out that long if there was some­thing like this,” he said.

In just a few weeks on the job, Lock­man and Sluza­lis have com­piled a list of places where po­ten­tial clients tend to con­gre­gate. Trav­el­ing along busy Univer­sity Boule­vard, Sluza­lis points to a brick build­ing. Some­one told her a nun who works there has strong ties to the Latino com­mu­nity, she tells Lock­man. They make a note to stop by some­time to in­tro­duce them­selves.

In the course of the evening, the team also stops at Shep­herd’s Ta­ble, a Sil­ver Spring non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides meals for the home­less. A few men stop Sluza­lis and ask her ques­tions. One ad­mires her black wind­breaker.

The pair hope that by fre­quent­ing places where folks who are tar­gets for treat­ment con­gre­gate, they’ll be able to es­tab­lish some sort of bond. Still, they ac­knowl­edge that no mat­ter how hard they try, there will be some peo­ple they can’t win over. But Lock­man is philo­soph­i­cal: “We’ll get the good. We’ll get the bad,” he said. “But the most im­por­tant thing is we’ll get the ones who want treat­ment.’’

PHO­TOS BY JAMES M. THRESHER — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Frank Lock­man, left, and An­gela Sluza­lis, drive through the streets of Mont­gomery on a reg­u­lar ba­sis talk­ing to ad­dicts who may ben­e­fit from the county’s new treat­ment pro­gram.

Sluza­lis and Lock­man use a car to pa­trol the streets that is fit­ted with a plex­i­glass par­ti­tion for pro­tec­tion from po­ten­tially un­ruly pas­sen­gers.

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