Since the 1980s, the Fullerton Police Department has had a long history of working to address the complex needs of the homeless population. Fullerton is known to have the largest homeless population in Orange County yet the department did not have the resources and training available to handle this population. In 2012, the police department partnered with Coast to Coast Foundation, a Yorba Linda-based nonprofit homeless support group, to expand its services and support local homeless residents, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and provide real solutions to long-term complex issues to those struggling with housing.

Homelessness around the downtown area, specifically around the transportation center, has increased in recent years creating a perception of increased crime. Some of the crimes associated with policing a homeless population include panhandling, littering, urinating and defecating in public, drug use and theft. Equally challenging is recognizing and understanding mental health issues among the homeless population, and how to link the homeless to various resources. Residents, business owners and commuters expect the police department to effectively deal with the homeless population to prevent crime and promote safety. Each day, Fullerton’s officers engage in creative problem solving to meet these expectations, while considering the rights and welfare of the homelessness.

In the summer of 2012, the police chief implemented a creative strategy to increase the number of assigned homeless liaison program full-time officers from one to four, and allocated $50,000.00 to support the program. The homeless liaison officers utilize these funds to provide food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care to those in need.

Policing a growing population of homeless takes true care and compassion on the part of the officers. Because of the frequency of these types of calls and the amount of time they take to complete, the department was interested in learning more about the origin of the cause. Very often these cases related to mental illness and lack of trust for the police officers and others. To help address this issue, a Coast to Coast volunteer regularly rides with the department’s homeless liaison officers to offer immediate and onsite assistance with subsistence, shelter and gift cards for food items.

Collaboration between the Coast to Coast Foundation and the Fullerton Police Department is the first of its kind wherein a municipality has pledged time, money and resources to work in conjunction with a local nonprofit run by volunteers and funded by donations. Several neighboring police departments have recently inquired about the program for their own communities, including Los Angeles, Buena Park and Garden Grove.

The Fullerton Police Department has assisted surrounding agencies including the Anaheim and Huntington Beach Police Departments with the particulars and logistics of creating a robust wrap services program in their city to care for their homeless.

The Fullerton Police Department also teamed up with Orange County Mental Health Services to offer a mental health clinician to work with officers and volunteers to provide homeless individuals with immediate mental health assistance and care. The department and county mental health together have provided assistance to more than 1,530 individuals in need of onsite mental health services.

The combined efforts of the department and nonprofit resulted in over 2,000 homeless men, women and children receiving bus passes, food gift cards, food, water, socks, clothing, sleeping bags, relocation assistance funding, hotel vouchers, backpacks, bicycles, payment of California DMV fees for identification cards, assistance with mail stops, and long-term shelter. Additionally, a total of 115 men, women and children have been relocated to permanent long-term housing thanks to the work of all entities working in partnership to end homelessness.

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Originally posted at the League of California Cities.