Thursday, July 31, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The local Salvation Army, citing a $2 million budget deficit, says it will no longer accept unpaid referrals for its substance abuse program from the criminal justice system.
That could leave about 500 addicts a year, nonviolent criminals with drug-related offenses, seeking treatment instead at a single inpatient facility in Southern Nevada: WestCare, which has a long waiting list. The offenders had been participating in a 22-week residential substance abuse program virtually for free.
“It’s very unfortunate for the court system,” said District Court Judge Jackie Glass. “We never had enough beds to begin with.”
Glass said the cutback by the Salvation Army is a sign of tough economic times for the state, which funds the substance abuse program. There will be a trickle-down effect from the Salvation Army’s turning down referrals, she said: Jails and prisons will be more crowded and the overall costs of housing drug offenders will be higher. It’s much more cost-effective, she said, to help people become sober so they can hold down a job.
Officer Debbie Dreyer of the Nevada Public Safety Department’s Parole and Probation Division said if the addicts can’t take care of their substance abuse problems it is more likely they’ll continue to commit crimes to feed their habits.
Maj. William Raihl, who leads the Las Vegas chapter of the charity, said he’s sought funding from the federal government, the state and the county. Everyone listens, he said, but no one comes up with more funding.
“It’s like everyone understands the problem but no one wants to tackle the problem,” Raihl said. “Now we’re going to be forced to tackle the issue.”
The Salvation Army’s budget crunch is the result of rising costs, stagnant donations and a decrease in revenue from its thrift stores. The six-month inpatient program costs about $1.9 million to run and receives about $858,000 a year in public funding, about half of it from the state Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency. But public funding has been flat for the past six years, Raihl said. Meanwhile, the cost to run the program has climbed by about 30 percent.
The regional Salvation Army office helps the local charity pay its bills, but those loans have to be repaid, Raihl said.
About 1,600 people a year go through the rehabilitation program, and a third are referrals from District Court judges and the state Parole and Probation Division. In good years it was nice to provide free rehabilitation to the criminal offenders — who usually had been caught possessing drugs or committing burglaries to feed their addictions, Raihl said. But in lean budget years the referrals are “almost like a nail in the coffin,” he said.
Those who can’t get free services at the Salvation Army will have a hard time finding affordable treatment elsewhere. More than 2,000 people are on the state’s waiting list for such programs this year. There are about 375 substance abuse treatment beds in Clark County — 550 in the state.
The Salvation Army has 79 beds for men and 32 for women. Raihl said the program may be forced to reduce its number of beds in the future.