Cops take aim at homelessness

Burbank Police Sgt. Mike Parrinello envisions himself as the one to help keep homeless people on the path to recovery and off the streets.

“We’re the go-betweens, since we have contact with them,” Parrinello said. “We’re coordinating between officers, resources and whatever organizations will help.”

The program models are still being tested and put together, but Parrinello is part of a budding effort at the Burbank Police Department to take a more proactive approach in reducing the number of transients on city streets.

Parrinello has already served as a liaison between officers, residents, community organizations and the homeless population for roughly nine months.

“It’s a lot easier when you have someone in your corner helping you out,” Parrinello said. “We envision this isn’t going to be just, ‘We’ll point you in the right direction.’ We’ll help you get there, and follow up to make sure it’s working properly. If not, we’ll find another means.”

Too often, a connection is made and there is no follow-up, he added.

“If their needs are not met, there could be some regression, discouragement and the negative spiral occurs again,” Parrinello said. “If we can help with homelessness or mental health or addiction challenges before it becomes a criminal matter, it helps the community.”

Burbank police in recent months began conversations with local nonprofits and faith-based organizations to pull together a grass-roots effort to combat an increase in homelessness.

According to a survey conducted this year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 202 people in Burbank were homeless, and of those, 114 were without shelter, 48 were using an emergency shelter and 40 were in transitional housing.

Given the strain on resources, police are hoping to find a more permanent solution to assist people who are homeless and suffering from mental health problems.

Parrinello and Burbank Police Capt. Mike Albanese, who oversees the initiative, both decided to expand his role, Parrinello said.

“The time we put in now should be exponential in time-saving in the long term,” he said, adding that two other officers will serve on the front lines of the new endeavor.

Officer Kristiana Sanchez, along with Officer Scott Moody, will serve as quality-of-life officers, also focusing on such issues as graffiti at parks, but homelessness will be a major aspect of their work.

Part of her research involved a conversation with Santa Monica Police about the team of six officers and a sergeant who work to make referrals and other resources available for the homeless.

Sanchez said she and Officer Scott Moody signed up for the task — and both will devote their time to helping the homeless for most of 2012.

“I want to start helping rather than saying, ‘Let’s just take you to the hospital because you have a mental problem,’ or ‘let’s arrest you because you’re drunk,’” Sanchez said. “Let’s find the root of the problem and start working with the community and homeless people and start helping them out.”

That kind of comprehensive approach may require additional resources and money, she added.

Albanese said the size of a team in Burbank will ultimately depend on demand, but that the two officers and two supervisors currently devoted to the effort are more than what the department has had.

“It’s a little bit groundbreaking for us,” Albanese said.

Natalie Profant Komuro, executive director of nonprofit homeless services provider Ascencia in Glendale, which services many Burbank transients, said she supported the new effort.

“Even though it’s not the typical training for police, they do get called in to situations where they have to use those skills,” Komuro said. “It will help them be more effective in confronting the problems they face on the street.”

It could take a year or two before Burbank police determine if the project was worth the resources, Albanese said.

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