The results are in for a 2016 Citrus Heights Police Department study of local homelessness: between 30 and 35 percent of calls for service received by CHPD are homeless-related.
In a phone interview with The Sentinel last week, Police Sgt. Jason Baldwin discussed the results of the department’s study, as well as a related survey taken in April of the local homeless population.
Baldwin, who oversees the Problem Oriented Policing division of CHPD, said the study was based off an examination of call logs from Jan. 1 through May 1 of this year, with calls most commonly associated with homelessness contributing to the total figure — panhandling, disturbance loitering and camping. He said the flex in the percentage of 30 to 35 percent was due to difficulties in determining whether a panhandler or loiterer was actually homeless.
The sergeant said the call volume “ebbs and flows throughout the day and in different parts of the city,” ranging from 2 a.m. “recyclers” digging through trash to 8 a.m. camping-related calls as business owners arrive to work and find someone sleeping outside.
One of those business owners is Scott Holbrook, proprietor of Scott’s Econo Lube N’ Tune on Arcadia Drive in Citrus Heights. He said homeless-related issues are seen “virtually everyday” when he opens up shop — highlighting past break-ins, discarded needles, and homeless camps on his property.
Holbrook said the issues have negatively affected his business, with a noted increase in problems over the past two years. He also said the north Auburn area of Placer County where he lives is facing significant homeless issues, with a recent Placer County Sheriff’s report finding 24 percent of all calls in the area related to homelessness.
In an effort to help address homelessness locally in Citrus Heights, CHPD also completed a survey of the homeless population in April, identifying 192 individuals as homeless or associated with homelessness. A similar survey was conducted by police in 2015 and identified 53 homeless, but Baldwin said this year’s survey was more comprehensive in scope and also expanded the definition of homelessness.
“When most people think of homeless people they think of the chronic homeless person sitting on the side of the street with a sign,” said Baldwin. But while the chronic homeless are those who “want to stay on the streets,” the sergeant said officers also sought to identify what he called the “invisible homeless,” the “near homeless,” and the “apparent homeless.”
He described invisible homeless as “couch surfers” with a floating place to stay each night, while “apparent homeless” are those who hang around homeless communities and have “all the signs and characteristics” of homelessness, but actually have a roof to sleep under. Baldwin said the “near homeless” are those considered most at-risk for becoming homeless, but with help can be kept from ever living on the streets.
The 30-day survey effort involved patrol officers asking a series of questions to voluntary participants on the streets, based on input from Sacramento Self-Help Housing — a nonprofit group that helps homeless and those at-risk for becoming homeless find housing. Baldwin said the goal of the survey was to identify how to best help the homeless population get off the streets and into housing — which in turn would reduce the amount of homeless-related calls to the police department.
Results found 58 percent self-identified as having a drug or alcohol addiction, 30 percent had some type of parole or probation status, 26 percent listed a mental illness, and 6 percent appeared to be homeless but were not actually homeless. A total of 23 percent of those surveyed said they do not reside or camp in Citrus Heights, although they apparently traverse city streets during the day.
Baldwin said the survey data would be passed along to Sac Self-Help for use in connecting homeless with available resources. New for the 2016-17 fiscal year, the housing nonprofit will also have a full-time “homeless navigator” stationed with an office at CHPD, beginning in August.
The navigator will be funded through a $50,000 contract approved by the city council last month, with plans for the navigator to go out with officers on certain calls and make direct connections with the city’s homeless population, according to Katherine Cooley, a development specialist with the City of Citrus Heights.
Cooley said the navigator will primarily provide services in the field, expanding on a $10,000 navigator pilot program launched in the city last year. She said the navigator was able to engage 25 homeless participants, connecting some with permanent or temporary housing and others with bus passes, hotel vouchers, or a free government cell phone.
Cooley said the program was designed to respond to concerns expressed by businesses and residents “regarding the negative impact of homelessness and activities associated with homelessness.” She’s hopeful greater funding this year will allow for the navigator to “substantially expand the number of homeless individuals housed and off the streets.”
A “Winter Shelter” program is also soon to be launched this year by the recently formed nonprofit Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART). The effort will connect area homeless with a rotating seasonal shelter at various participating local churches, seven nights a week.
More information about the shelter program can be found at www.citrusheightsHART.org