When two Delray Beach sober homes abruptly shut down this month, 24 recovering addicts were displaced with only one or two days notice, police say.
In the past, those recovering likely would have ended up homeless, roaming the city’s downtown or committing petty crimes such as trespassing or burglary to get by, Chief Jeff Goldman said.
Instead, the department’s new service population advocate — Ariana Ciancio, a licensed mental health counselor and master certified addiction professional — helped many find a place to rest their heads.
“Anybody that comes into the front lobby and says they need help with addiction, we are going to help them,” Goldman said.
Ciancio’s position, which will cost between $50,000 and $70,000 annually, is unique to Delray Beach.
It is the first municipal police department in Palm Beach County to employ a full-time worker who exclusively finds resources for people battling addiction, mental health issues and homelessness.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a department with a much larger force and budget, has a unit that deals with mental health and addiction.
But Delray Beach, a city of more than 60,000 that grapples with dozens of overdoses a month, has never had a means of aiding displaced addicts beyond initial police response.
As Delray Beach uses recently adopted regulations to shut down shady sober homes, more residents will likely become homeless, Goldman said.
“Everything is being clamped down, and they’re closing up shop,” he said. “Now what happens to these individuals? They get kicked on the street.”
As part of the department’s comprehensive approach to tackling the opioid epidemic, Goldman embarked on creating a position that deals with the people, not the crimes.
When an officer deploys Narcan, a life-saving anti-overdose drug, Ciancio is notified.
She reaches out to the overdose victim and offers resources — whether that’s a bed at a detox facility or counseling or contact information for the nearest soup kitchen.
“By giving them a pamphlet, or my card, or my phone number and telling them the Delray Beach Police Department is here for them, I try to plant the seed,” Ciancio said.
The position became necessaryin a city with a climbing overdose and homeless rate.
“It’s really about compassion and empathy for our community,” Goldman said. “How many times can our officers watch the same individual overdose? How many times can they watch someone die?”
Officers do not have the resources to help victims beyond responding to crimes, Goldman said.
“We started asking ourselves, ‘What can we do after Narcan?’” Goldman said.
They now call Ciancio.
Ciancio developed the police department’s C.A.R.E.S. — or Community Advocacy Response Education Service — program. Officers contact her when they encounter someone who needs help, she said.
In her two months, Ciancio has reached out to numerous local treatment centers to forge relationships. Some of the treatment facilities and sober homes even offer free beds.
She roams areas of the city frequented by the homeless and acts as a “bridge” to local resources offered by nonprofits and state agencies, she said.
She created the “Ariana Delray” Facebook page as another line of communication between the department and locals.
Goldman expects the C.A.R.E.S. program to grow. The department is collaborating with Florida Atlantic University’s School of Social Work to get interns to assist Ciancio in her workload.
Said Goldman: “I don’t think one person is enough.”