SIOUX CITY -- Siouxland leaders made their case to federal health officials Friday for the need for a detox center to help the area's addicted and homeless, especially in the Native American community.
Nearly three dozen representatives from government, health care, social services and law enforcement told Indian Health Service officials during a meeting at the Ho-Chunk Center that Sioux City has no detox facility, and local hospitals and the jail can't continue to act as one.
"We in law enforcement are now becoming caretakers for our Native American residents," Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller said. "We cannot continue our current direction, which has been ineffective and inhumane."
Hosted by the Siouxland Street Project, a coalition of community leaders formed two years ago to find a solution to Sioux City's homeless problem, the meeting brought issues forward not only to IHS officials, but also U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to see what federal help might be available.
"After two and a half years, we are really at a point where we need to decide what the next steps are ... to decide as a community what we need to do. What we need is a detox facility," said Matt Ohman, executive director of Siouxland Human Investment Partnership.
With a disproportionate number of Native Americans making up Sioux City's pubic intoxication arrests, Ohman said a logical place to look for funding is the IHS. Though just 2 percent of the local population, Native Americans in 2017 made up 52 percent of the city's 925 arrests for public intoxication. A number of those people also are homeless.
A detox center where people can go to be detoxified from alcohol or substance abuse until they're sober enough to enter an addiction treatment facility is a top priority for the Siouxland Street Project. Members believe a center could reduce public intoxication arrests, keep people off the streets and ultimately help people heal and improve their lives.
A big question facing the community is how will it be funded.
Native American activist Frank LaMere invited IHS officials to Sioux City to receive their input, and possibly their help, to find answers to that question.
"Healing must begin," LaMere said. "Not three years from now, not three months from now but at this very minute."
Dr. David Beckstead, acting director of the IHS Division of Behavioral Health, said the large turnout made him optimistic that a solution can be found.
"We don't want to pretend that sitting in our offices in Washington, D.C., that we have all the solutions. That's why we're here today," Beckstead said. "While we're here to listen, we're prepared to act."
IHS funding for a detox facility is no guarantee, he said, adding to the importance of getting local government, business and philanthropists involved.
King, who said he's in discussions with the IHS to find funding for a detox center, echoed the importance of public and private collaboration.
"I think we can put together a detox center," said King, a Republican from Kiron. "My concern is a detox center helps, but it doesn't solve this problem. Understanding the cultural component of this is where the solution lies. We need to have a good plan. Once we get a plan and the buy in, then we can take action."
Siouxland Chamber of Commerce President Chris McGowan said the business community is prepared to support a detox center financially.
"This community has an incredible history of coming together in times of crisis and in times of need. I assert this morning that this is another of those times," he said.