An Appropriate Local Government Response To Homelessness

The OC Register on Friday published an article on the Anaheim Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team:

Up to 10 officers eventually will be assigned to work on the Homeless Outreach Team, charged with building a rapport with the growing number of indigents living in Orange County’s most populous city. The Anaheim Poverty Task Force this year counted 447 homeless people living across the city during daytime hours – mostly gathered in parks, on the city’s west side and in the neighborhoods surrounding the Disneyland Resort.

The Anaheim Police Department’s new outreach team is based on an enforcement program in neighboring Fullerton, where police officers work in tandem with local churches and nonprofit groups to connect transients with motel vouchers, bus passes, clothes and gift cards to fast-food restaurants. A county mental-health clinician often is dispatched with officers to help the despondent. So far, 40 homeless people have been moved into transitional housing or reconnected with relatives, officials said.

This is approach is a wise one for the APD because it stems from its basic law enforcement mission. The police aren’t trying to “end homelessness” but to make the city safer for everyone, including the homeless. Part of that is connecting homeless individuals with organizations trying to help those who want it to achieve independence and a normal life.

The Homeless Outreach Team also recognizes the inherent limits of their work:

“He’s a smart guy, but we can’t help him until he decides to help himself,” said Officer Bob Conklin of the Anaheim Police Department’s newly created Homeless Outreach Team.

That’s true of any charitable outreach to troubled people, but more so for government agencies which are limited to responding to a person’s physical and psychological needs. Since a person’s spiritual dimension is of at least equal importance, private organizations are best suited to help the willing to escape homelessness.

What I like about the APD’s approach is the effort to help homeless persons doesn’t crowd out its duty to enforce the laws and ensure public facilities such as parks remains public parks, rather than become de facto homeless encampments:

But the city’s laws still need to be enforced when help from such resources is rejected, said Anaheim police Sgt. Michael Lozeau, head of the Homeless Outreach Team.

Anaheim police officers responded to 4,458 calls related to littering, loitering, public urination and other disturbances caused by homeless people during the most recent fiscal year, accounting for 2 percent of the department’s calls for service.

A law that went into effect this month bans homeless people from pitching tents in parks, alleys and other public areas in Anaheim as a way to eliminate blight.

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