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California

L.A. expands homeless outreach program

homeless belongings
Homeless men sort through their belongings on a traffic island near downtown Los Angeles last month.
(Richard Vogel/Associated Press)

A program intended to connect homeless Angelenos with housing and social services will expand into South Los Angeles next month, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.

The Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement initiative launched in the San Fernando Valley in May. The program connects L.A. Police Department officers with the city’s Sanitation Department, the mayor’s office, the city attorney’s office and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to identify homeless encampments and help people get into permanent housing.

The program expanded to LAPD’s Central and West bureaus this summer.

An estimated 47,000 homeless people live in Los Angeles County, two-thirds of whom are within the L.A. city limits. A city ordinance approved earlier this year prohibits tents on city sidewalks from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Personal property left unattended for 24 hours can be confiscated by authorities, though the city will store the items for as long as 90 days.

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“Our first responders — whether they are police officers or outreach workers — interact directly with L.A.’s homeless population on a daily basis,” Garcetti said in a statement. “HOPE serves as a homelessness ‘super team.’”

Since the spring, the Valley HOPE team has responded to more than 1,300 reports of homeless encampments. It has cleaned up more than 500 tons of trash and 20,000 pounds of hazardous materials, and confiscated 1,500 needles and sharp objects, according to the mayor’s office. 

Officers working with the program accompany case workers when they make contact with a homeless man or woman. They also provide protection for sanitation crews when they disassemble an encampment, said Cmdr. Todd Chamberlain, homeless coordinator for the LAPD. Since the spring, officers in the Valley have helped 44 people move into shelters and assisted sanitation crews with 159 cleanups, he said. 

“These encampments are incredibly filthy,” Chamberlain said. “There’s no infrastructure to support them. There’s no water or electricity. There’s fecal matter everywhere.”

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Ten police officers and one sergeant are assigned full time to each HOPE team. The officers receive training on mental health and narcotics, Chamberlain said. Ultimately, that training will be provided to officers departmentwide. 

“What they really get more of is the opportunity and the time to do what the average patrol officer doesn’t have the time or luxury to do,” Chamberlain said. “They’re really building relationships with these people and that breaks down a lot of barriers.”

Earlier this year, the Police Commission approved a new policy directing LAPD officers to treat the homeless with “compassion and empathy.”

alice.walton@latimes.com

Twitter: @TheCityMaven

 


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