Indian Health Service officials and Sioux City, Iowa leaders toured a homeless shelter for women in June 2018 as part of a conference held to discuss construction of a new treatment center for Native people in Sioux City. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

'We'll be bold': Efforts continue to provide urban Indians with services

Private donor commits $300,000 for halfway house at tribal crossroads
By Kevin Abourezk

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Efforts to improve conditions for those struggling with alcohol, addiction and homelessness in Sioux City, Iowa – including a disproportionate number of Native people – got a significant boost recently when a private donor committed $300,000 to pay for a halfway house.

The donation for the Hope Street project will provide funds for startup costs and six months’ worth of operational expenses for the halfway house, said Matt Ohman, executive director of the Siouxland Human Investment Partnership, which supports health and human services programs in Sioux City.

Ohman said the Hope Street project will be able to house as many as 10 men at a time.

He said men who complete detox typically have to wait 45 days until they can start a treatment program in Sioux City, which is a crossroads for tribal people from around South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. During that time, many men relapse and never begin treatment, he said.

“It’s just a vicious cycle that continues to repeat over and over,” he said.

Hope Street will provide those men with housing among other sober men, he said.

Just 2 percent of Sioux City’s population is made up of Native Americans, though they make up a disproportionate percentage of those suffering from alcoholism. In 2017, 52 percent of those arrested in Sioux City for public intoxication were Native American.

Local leaders have also begun exploring the possibility of building a new detoxification center in Sioux City.

Frank LaMere, director of the Four Directions Community Center, speaks at a June 2018 conference to discuss construction of a new treatment center for Native people in Sioux City. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

In June 2018, the Siouxland Street Project – an organization focused on reducing homelessness in Sioux City – hosted a conference for Indian Health Service officials, Sioux City leaders and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to discuss the need for a detox center in Sioux City.

This week, a committee made up of representatives from Sioux City health and human services agencies met to discuss efforts to improve conditions for Native people suffering from alcoholism, addiction and homelessness. The Community Initiative for Native American Children and Families (CINCF) met inside the Ho-Chunk Centre, a 10-story office building owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Frank LaMere, director of the Four Directions Community Center, talked about ongoing efforts to construct a detox center. He said he and two others, Ohman and Erin Binneboese, also of the Siouxland Human Investment Partnership, traveled to Gallup, New Mexico, recently to tour a treatment center that was established in 1992 to address public intoxication in Gallup.

The Na'Nizhoozhi Center provides residential substance abuse treatment, primarily to Navajo people.

LaMere said the center employs eight law enforcement officers who are charged with picking up intoxicated people around Gallup and bringing them to the center.

“They’re dedicated officers who go out and do this work,” he said.

Gourd dancing starts at 12 noon on Monday, December 31 New Year's Eve at Miyamura High School!

Posted by Na'Nizhoozhi Center, Inc. on Sunday, December 30, 2018
The Na'Nizhoozhi Center is located in Gallup, New Mexico, and provides services to the Indian community there.

He said IHS officials consider the Gallup detox center an effective model and suggested LaMere and members of CINCF visit the center in order to get ideas about how a new detox center in Sioux City might be designed.

The Na'Nizhoozhi Center’s treatment programs incorporate Native American culture, including a sweat lodge and Native American Church ceremonies. The center costs nearly $800,000 a year to operate and serves 24,000 people annually, though only about 21,700 people live in Gallup.

The center receives state and federal grants, as well as revenue derived from a packaged liquor excise tax in McKinley County, which includes Gallup.

“If they can do that, I know we can do that,” LaMere told members of CINCF this week.

He said one of the most impressive aspects of the Na'Nizhoozhi Center is how it treats those it serves. Rather than call them clients or patients, center employees call them “relatives,” LaMere said.

And the center focuses on attempting to identify and address the traumas those relatives have experienced in order to help them recover from their addictions, he said.

Before the opening of the Na'Nizhoozhi Center, Gallup struggled with a significant population of homeless and addicted men and women. The center now provides law enforcement and medical professionals in Gallup a place to send people who have nowhere else to go, LaMere said.

At this week’s CINCF meeting, LaMere lamented the loss in 2007 of a treatment center for Native people in Sioux City. He said IHS closed the center because it wasn’t compliant with state and federal health and safety standards. The program lost its state certification, and then IHS cut funding for it.

The funds for the program were diverted to two other programs – the Nebraska and South Dakota urban Indian health coalitions. The funding was later diverted to Jackson Recovery Centers in Sioux City and was meant to be used for assessments for Native people and treatment at an urban Indian program in Omaha.

LaMere said IHS’s decision to end funding for the Sioux City treatment program meant Native people struggling with addiction have had nowhere to turn for more than a decade.

“They unilaterally took money from your community and didn’t ask you,” he said.

He said Congress would have to approve appropriations for a new detox center in Sioux City. But LaMere said Sioux City leaders also should consider seeking grants to pay for the detox center, and he suggested hiring a grant writer to do so.

He said he plans to host another meeting of local, state and regional stakeholders in three months in Sioux City to discuss the detox center proposal.

“That’s what we’re going to do this year,” he said. “We’ll be bold.”

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