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Comfy Sobering Center In San Jose May Be A Win-Win For Community

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- San Jose is launching a different kind of "drunk tank," a friendlier version that could be a potential win-win for everyone.

The Mission Street Sobering Center is a place that one hopes they never have to use, but it's good and reassuring to know that it's there.

But the moment one walks in the center's door, it is obvious that it's a different kind of drunk tank. They have hot coffee, food, clean clothes and even private showers.

But the centerpieces are the comfy leather chairs; they have 15 for men and 5 for women.

These accommodations add up to a monumental shift in attitudes toward dealing with public drunkenness. Those involved are willing to go through some trouble to provide amenities for the publicly drunk.

"These are human beings and they need to be treated with respect and dignity," explained Tina Sentner.

A police officer will only take someone to the sobering center if they're calm and nonviolent. The maximum stay is 24 hours, and staff will talk to visitors about treatment options while they're there.

More than 250 people have come to the center in its first year with just 19 repeat visitors.

"This notion that this is encouraging bad behavior? Uh, no. Alcoholism is a disease and if we can help the individual connect to another level of care, then we've helped everybody," said Sentner.

San Jose police will begin dropping off people starting Monday. This will save officers precious hours that would otherwise be spent booking the drunk people in jail or driving them to crowded emergency rooms.

"We're willing to work with the community and provide alternatives to incarceration. But, I think it's still the responsibility of the individual to be responsible as well," said Enrique Garcia of the San Jose Police Department.

"How do you not be judgmental of people coming in here? That could've been me, that could've been me," said Sentner.

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