Navajos reach agreement to keep detox center open

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — The Navajo Nation, McKinley County and Gallup officials have signed an agreement to keep a detox and alcohol treatment facility open.

The agreement came after the Na’Nizhoozhi Center Inc. closed its operations in June, sparking fears that alcohol-related violent crime and deaths could increase and hospital emergency rooms could become overwhelmed in Gallup, a city that has made strides reducing public intoxication.

The agreement signed Thursday creates a funding structure for the center and gives the tribe authority to operate the program through its Department of Behavioral Health.

Navajo President Ben Shelly said the partnership will “provide a basic service for people who walk that lonely road of alcohol abuse and addiction.”

Under the agreement, the tribe and the city will provide a combined $670,000 to improve the property to meet any codes and standards by Jan. 1. Gallup and the county will use 10 percent of revenue from an alcohol excise tax to help fund the center on an annual basis.

McKinley County Commissioner Genevieve Jackson signed the agreement on behalf of the county. Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney also signed on.

“We’re really grateful that the three agencies came together to address this matter because it is our responsibility,” Jackson said.

Officials from the three governments have been working since June to find a way to keep the center open.

The nonprofit operation had a presence in Gallup for more than 20 years, providing detoxification, shelter, counseling and treatment to an estimated 24,000 people a year.

The Navajo Nation, Zuni Pueblo, Gallup and McKinley County banded together in the early 1990s to create NCI to address alcoholism in the city. Before it opened, authorities said they would pick up some 50,000 people a year from the streets, leaving them in a concrete room at the jail to sober up.

The largest social detoxification center in New Mexico, Na’Nizhoozhi used a mix of methods to treat people. Many of the clients were transients from the surrounding American Indian reservations where the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited. About 40 percent of clients were from Arizona, officials have said.

“We are going to work together to help people escape the grips of alcoholism and alcohol abuse,” Shelly said, “so people may make their lives better for themselves and their families.”

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