On a Thursday morning in October, I went on a ride-along with Matthew Kalscheuer, one of the Fullerton Police Department’s homeless liaison officers. Also present on the ride-along was a representative from the Orange County Health Care Agency, and several employees from CityNet, the non-profit which has contracted with the city to do homeless outreach and case management.
CityNet team members do homeless outreach at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
This team of people goes out every Thursday morning to interact with Fullerton’s homeless community in the parks, public spaces, and other places where the local homeless usually gather. The purpose is to take a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach to homelessness, to hopefully help people get off the streets.
Our first stop was the Public Library to meet representatives from CityNet, who spent the morning at St. Mary’s church across the street, meeting with the homeless folks who gather there.
Andrew Boutros, a collaborative case manager, told us that they had contact with a woman who scored high enough on their assessment tool to be eligible for permanent supportive housing. She is “document-ready” and is now waiting for housing to open up.
This assessment tool, which CityNet administers, is called the Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT). Depending on a person’s score, they might be eligible for different types of housing—either rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing.
“We work on getting them ‘document ready’ by providing all the documents to make sure they are ready for housing. And then it’s a waiting game. It could take a month. It could take up to a year,” explained Boutros.
CityNet’s contract with Fullerton began July of this year, and we are paying them $80,000 per year to do these services. CityNet does “in reach” every Friday morning at the Library and every Thursday at St. Mary’s. And they do “outreach” with the homeless liaison officer every Thursday as well.
“We provide case management services, which consist of connecting our clients with different shelters, like Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim,” explains Boutros, “Every client has different needs, so we try to create a specific plan for every client. At the first meeting, we do an initial intake with them, where we get to know them, we get primary information like date of birth, and then we work on a permanent housing plan.”
We set out from the library toward Ford Park, where homeless people tend to gather. However, once there we found only one homeless person, most likely because it rained last night, explained Officer Kalscheuer.
Boutros says that when they were at St. Mary’s earlier this morning, there were about double the usual number of homeless people there. St. Marys is one of the few churches in Fullerton that allows homeless people to sleep on their grounds.
“They have an awning there,” explains Officer Kalscheuer, “so anywhere there’s an overhang or anything that protects them from the rain, they’ll get under there and camp out for the night.”
Kalscheuer explains that, with the rainy season coming, they have been making sure the flood control channels are cleared out of homeless encampments, so that people are not washed away.
Our next stop is Bastanchury Park. Again, there is only one homeless person, so we move on.
I ask Boutros about how successful they have been in terms of helping to get people off the streets. He says that in July and August, they had 104 client engagements with 53 street exits into various types of housing.
We arrive at Valencia Park. There’s a man sitting at a bench with a pit bull on a leash, with a few bags of possessions. He’s looking at a map.
The man’s name is Stephan. His mom recently sold their house and moved to Idaho, and he’s trying to reunite with her.
Boutros tells Stephan that they offer “relocation services” where they will help provide a Greyhound bus ticket if they can confirm that there’s somewhere for them to go. Stephan says he’s not interested right now.
A CityNet employee helps Robert fill out an initial intake form to connect him with services.
As Boutros is talking with Stephan, another homeless man emerges from the bathroom. I recognize him as Robert, whom I met recently at St Philip Benizi church, where Father Dennis Kriz allows a certain number of homeless folks to sleep.
Robert is interested in case management. A CityNet employee fills out an initial intake form for Robert. This will allow him to get put into a database system of different homeless service providers.
I overhear a CityNet employee say that there’s currently only one bed open at the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter. I ask Boutros, “Would you say that there’s not enough shelter space for the need that exists?”
He says, “There has definitely been growth in the homeless population lately. There’s a need for more shelters, and I believe different cities are working on building more shelters.”
Our next stop is the Starbucks at the corner of Harbor and Orangethorpe. There we encounter an elderly man named Donnie and a younger man sitting in the bushes between Starbucks and Subway.
The CityNet team helped get Donnie into a detox program.
Officer Kalscheuer finds a meth pipe wrapped in a cloth. The younger man takes off, but Donnie stays. The liaison team discusses the possibility of getting him into a detox or rehab program.
Donnie gets some income from his deceased wife’s social security. He says he has been homeless, on and off, for 43 years, mainly in Fullerton. Years ago, he was a boxing trainer at Fullerton High School.
I learn from the OC Heath Agency representative that, as with shelter beds, rehab/detox beds are also limited. The team calls a local rehab facility called Charle Street, and things look promising.
[Update: Donnie completed detox at Charle Street and is now staying at the Bridges at Kraemer Shelter.]
I ask the OC Health Care Agency worker, who has been working with the homeless in Orange County for 18 years, “What has been your experience of doing outreach to people with substance abuse problems? What kind of successes and difficulties have you had?”
“Most addicts who are actively using— don’t want rules,” he says, “What I’ve seen over the years is that those who truly want it are willing to abide by societal rules and/or program rules. And those who are just not ready for programs or court mandates, or whatever—they just won’t abide by it.”
Our next stop is the Fullerton Transportation Center, where a number of homeless people gather. We run into a formerly homeless veteran named Richmond, who has lived at City Lights (an affordable housing complex downtown) for two years with the HUD-VASH voucher (a housing voucher for Veterans).
“I’m a Vietnam-era vet, and it was rough,” he says, “You noticed the difference when the guys came back from Afghanistan with TBI (traumatic brain injury), and I’ve talked to them on the streets…they were in agony when they came back.”
An elderly homeless man named Oscar is sitting on a bench. He has lost his ID, and has been trying to get it back so he can be eligible for benefits. Sgt. Hines, who has just joined us, goes to make a print-out of the guys’ info, so he can get his ID.
A CityNet employee explains to me that Oscar, a former railroad employee, is potentially eligible for a pension and retirement benefits. She says Oscar “really wants to get off the streets because he wants to start doing computer classes. That’s his goal. Hopefully with the printout from the police, we can take to the DMV so he can get an actual hard copy, and hopefully get him his benefits.”
Our last stop is the Brea Dam Park area, where we meet Mary, who has been homeless for nearly ten years and lives in her car with two dogs and a duck, and has cultivated a beautiful garden at the park.
Mary, who has been homeless for three years, has created a beautiful garden.
According to Boutros, Mary is eligible for permanent supportive housing.
“That’s my hope right there, to get in a place and not be out here all the time,” she says.
Mary has been living at the Brea Dam for three years. She formerly worked in an office, and as a security guard, but lost her job when her company merged with another company.
I ask her how she started her garden.
“This young guy works up there at one of the nurseries, and he came by and brought me a little plant on Mother’s Day…And the next thing I know he comes back here and he had taken all kinds of plants out of the dumpster at his work, the ones they throw out, and he brought them here, and they were all tore up. And I cleaned them up and re-planted them. And then he brought more, and more. And I would just clean them up and transplant them,” she said.
As Sgt. Hines drives us back to the police station, I ask how much of the police interactions with the homeless are these proactive outreach engagements vs. responding to calls and complaints from residents?
He says that, due to being understaffed, many of the interactions are in response to complaints.
“I would say 30-50 percent of all calls [to the police department] are transient-related,” he says.
I ask, “Since having groups like CityNet come out with you, do you find the homeless outreach has been more successful than its been in the past?”
“Yes. The whole program itself is more successful because CityNet and OC Health have a lot more resources than we do,” he says, “You have to build some rapport with the homeless community for them to trust you… ultimately our goal is to make them not homeless any longer.”
So, how many homeless people are in Fullerton? CityNet did a census a few months ago of North Orange County. Unfortunately, the results of that census have not yet been made public.
In January of 2019, they will be doing a Point in Time Count of the number of homeless people in the county, and they are looking for volunteers. To learn more visit www.everyonecountsoc.org