Police outreach program plays key role in solution
by DAVE SCHWAB
Jul 17, 2014 | 1305 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Officers monitor activity along Newport Avenue, including those of homeless people who might be causing problems for vacationers, local residents and merchants. Photo by Jim Grant
Officers monitor activity along Newport Avenue, including those of homeless people who might be causing problems for vacationers, local residents and merchants. Photo by Jim Grant
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A common complaint by Ocean Beach merchants is drunken homeless people, or those under the influence of drugs, passed out or panhandling outside their businesses along busy Newport Avenue. Some panhandlers are not shy about doing it.                        Photos by Jim Grant
A common complaint by Ocean Beach merchants is drunken homeless people, or those under the influence of drugs, passed out or panhandling outside their businesses along busy Newport Avenue. Some panhandlers are not shy about doing it. Photos by Jim Grant
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Police officers are the first line of defense in the Ocean Beach community against criminal activity. Their duties also include dealing with homelessness issues, public drunkenness and finding means to offer the homeless an opportunity to take advantage of programs and services to get them off the street — if vagrants choose to take advantage of such programs.			         Photo by Jim Grant
Police officers are the first line of defense in the Ocean Beach community against criminal activity. Their duties also include dealing with homelessness issues, public drunkenness and finding means to offer the homeless an opportunity to take advantage of programs and services to get them off the street — if vagrants choose to take advantage of such programs. Photo by Jim Grant
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The first line of defense in efforts to control homelessness is the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T.).

The H.O.T. team consists of police officers, county Health and Human Services Department specialists and psychiatric clinicians from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), a private nonprofit organization. The H.O.T. team is available to assist the community with homeless-related issues.

At a recent public forum hosted by District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris on homelessness issues in the Peninsula area, Sgt. Teresa Clark of the H.O,T. team told residents the key to resolving homelessness is not only to identify resources to aid those out on the street, but to get homeless people to seek out those resources. No easy task, said Clark, since people at present cannot be forced to take advantage of available social services.

Clark said one objective of the H.O.T. team is “compassionate enforcement.”

“It’s hard to grab people up,” said Clark, noting, “You can’t put them all in the jail system — it just can’t handle it.”

What H.O.T. team members do, said Clark, is help homeless people to “make connections, pull them off the streets and get them more help.”

Describing enforcement as “very challenging,” Clark said one resource available for everyone to tap into immediately is to call 2-1-1.

That number is an information hub that connects people with community, health and disaster services through a free, 24/7 confidential phone service and searchable online database.

“It’s just like calling 9-1-1,” said Clark, who added the 2-1-1 line allows searches for social services, including everything from substance-abuse treatment to child or elder care, food, housing and financial assistance.

By dialing 2-1-1, clients are linked with highly-trained service representatives who can help provide a wide range of immediate resources to individuals and families.

A recent survey of about 1,100 homeless people downtown revealed that 62 percent were “chronically homeless,” meaning they’ve lived on the street a year or more.

About 14 percent of the homeless population are veterans, and as many as 75 percent of them are classified as having serious mental-health problems.

Perhaps surprisingly, surveys have found the largest proportionate group of homeless is in the 50-to-59 age range. Another 12 percent of the homeless population is age 60 or older.

Two-thirds of the homeless population is from San Diego or Southern California.

A total of 92 percent of homeless people surveyed, when asked if they would move off the street and into transitional housing given the opportunity, said they would accept.

On the city’s website, the SDPD and elected officials recognize there is a fine line between homelessness as a social issue and a criminal issue.

It is noted that many homeless are on the street because of substance abuse, mental illness, or both. Often the disorder issues associated with homelessness are criminal in nature — but difficult to enforce.

Being homeless is also not a crime, although many kinds of public conduct — public intoxication, loitering, prowling, fighting, trespassing, aggressive panhandling, soliciting, urinating and defecating in public, camping or sleeping in parks, littering, obstructing sidewalks, living in a vehicle parked on a public street, disturbing the peace by loud and unreasonable noises, using offensive words, behaving in a threatening manner — are illegal and should be reported to police.

At the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, which is responsible for the area north of Centre City between Old Town and Point Loma. homelessness is a frequent agenda item and a hot topic.

Police Lt. Natalie Stone, who heads a police neighborhood resource team composed of a sergeant and eight officers, said homelessness is “problematic” and a high-profile presence in the Midway Corridor.

Noting that the numbers of her Neighborhood Resource Team “aren’t enough to combat the problem,” which she said includes cracking down on illegal encampments and people sleeping in cars, Stone has told community planners that police and the community need to work collaboratively to deal effectively with homelessness.

“A lot of the time we rely on your complaints,” she has said. “Call us and we’ll have the Neighborhood Resource Team, city code compliance officers or city neighborhood prosecuting officials to come out and clean up these areas and ask people to move along.”

The phone number to call to reach the Police H.O.T. Team is (858) 490-3850.
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