Over the past decade, California has seen an alarming increase in the number of homeless people. As national and state programs fall short of fully addressing homelessness in California, local governments need effective strategies for addressing the increasing number of men, women, and children experiencing homelessness in their communities.

Participants at the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (JPIA) 2019 Risk Management Educational Forum were presented with strategies and resources to deal with homeless-related issues at the Best Approaches to Encounters with the Homeless breakout session presented by Dr. Steve Albrecht, author and expert in workplace and school violence prevention and library safety and security.

Albrecht discussed the homeless crisis in California and its impact on public agencies. He presented recommendations for addressing homelessness at the local government level and shared ways to interact with homeless individuals on a personal level.

According to Albrecht, over 500,000 people in the United States were homeless on any given night in 2017. More than 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population live in California. In 2017, Los Angeles County had the highest statewide population of homeless individuals of roughly 53,000 individuals, followed by the cities of Los Angeles with 31,000, San Diego with 8,500, San Francisco with 7,500, and the counties of San Jose and Santa Clara with 6,500 combined.

The growing homeless population appears to be impacting local communities with increased panhandling and illegal encampments sprouting up in public spaces. Residents are raising concerns about increased crime, decreased property values, as well as the ethical and social implications of homelessness. Albrecht shared that, in these circumstances, residents do not call the health department or social services—they call the police. Interactions between homeless individuals and police can escalate, if not handled appropriately, potentially leading to officer-involved incidents or lawsuits.

The complex causes of homelessness cannot be addressed with a single solution; instead requiring local leaders to coordinate a wide range of resources. According to Albrecht, public and private partnerships must be created between shelters, medical service providers, substance abuse treatment facilities, social services, libraries, law enforcement, housing authority specialists, vocational and employment specialists, and faith-based and grant-funded homeless outreach centers.

Albrecht also shared guidelines how to effectively interact with homeless individuals on a personal level, including read the person’s body language, being assertive (not overly aggressive or too passive), and reassuring them that you are there to help. Albrecht encourages two approaches or conversation models when interacting with a homeless person:  1) the “Interview/Explain/Ask” model—introduce yourself, explain the situation, and ask what you need the person to do, and 2) the “LEAPS” model—listen, empathize, ask questions, paraphrase, and seek solutions.

Albrecht concluded his presentation with a group problem-solving session where participants discussed long-term solutions and action items. Albrecht reminded participants to look to city attorneys or general counsel regarding legislation, municipal codes, ordinances, and policies regarding homelessness.

The presentation materials for the Best Approaches to Encounters with the Homeless session and other 2019 California JPIA Risk Management Educational Forum sessions are available via the Forum website.

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 100 member cities and other governmental agencies.  Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive risk management training and loss control services.