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Sentinel staff report–
Questions and complaints about homelessness in Citrus Heights were answered by police in a live video session on Facebook last week.
Questions ranged from whether police can remove homeless from San Juan Park to complaints about individuals shooting up drugs in public places and whether homelessness is on the rise in Citrus Heights.
The July 18 session lasted about 15 minutes and was the latest in a series of live videos the city launched last month to discuss various local topics and issues.
Commander Jason Russo and POP Officer Felicia Taylor participated in answering the latest questions. Questions and answers from the session are included below, with minor editing for readability.
Q: Can you move the homeless out of San Juan Park?
Russo: “That’s a good question to ask because really what we have to get to the understanding is, just because there are homeless out there doesn’t necessarily mean that they are doing something illegal, because homelessness itself is not a crime.
“But sometimes there are illegal activities that we may find if we show up to something like that. So as an agency, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can just shoo homeless along. But we encourage [residents] to respond if they feel that there is a crime being committed or there is a nuisance-related crime — we will respond to that, and determine the best action to take.
“And not every time it’s enforcement, but sometimes there are some resources that we can provide. And here in the city we do have what’s called a Homeless Navigator, and that navigator is another tool that we use to try to help those who are struggling or may need help getting off the street.”
Taylor: “So our Homeless Navigator is Toni Morgan, and she is located within our police department and associates with our police officers and goes out on patrol with us. She offers a very wide range of resources for our homeless, anything from obtaining documents to finding job placement or resumes and housing. So if you find anyone that is in need of those resources, you can contact us directly and we can get Toni out to them.
Q: Why aren’t there laws that prevent people loitering and where is the public outcry about health and safety?
Russo: “So we’re trying to do the best we can to address people’s concerns. Again, we’re going to encourage people to call when they see drug activity or crimes that are related to nuisances or needles found in parks. We do have the ability to work with our general services department to have the ability to have community cleanups.
“In fact, one of the things that’s coming up, in fact there’s a meeting tonight (July 18) with the area near Van Maren Park, a lot of the residents have been fueled by the garbage and needles that have been left behind with some camps. These camps have been cleaned up recently, but we want to make sure that we include those neighbors in the future to have maybe regular cleanups and maybe a community cleanup day.
“We think this concept is useful in other neighborhoods as well, and we encourage those that want to keep their neighborhoods clean, or their open spaces clean, to help with their neighbors and come to us.”
The police department’s non-emergency number is (916) 727-5500. The problem-oriented policing team can also be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Who is responsible for cleaning up the large accumulation of trash on public streets left behind by some homeless, especially near Calvary Cemetery?
Russo: “So in this particular area, some part of it is the county and some part is the city of Citrus Heights. But I can assure you that we’ll take a look over there and determine what area is Citrus Heights and call our general services department and see if we can clean that up. And whatever area is not, we’ll bring it forward to the county and get them to take action on their section.”
Q: The reality is that there’s a big problem with drug and alcohol, and a small percentage of people with financial issues… What can we do to help this group out without throwing money at the problem with no results?
Russo: “Yes, there is a percentage of these homeless that are within our city that do have some drug and alcohol problems. Others do have some mental disabilities. That’s not all of them. And then we do have a percentage of individuals who just choose to live on the streets because that’s what they’ve done for years, or they have close ties here but have financial difficulties, or whatever their situation is.
“In each year we do a point in time count where we try to identify how many homeless are here in Citrus Heights. And I’ll give Felicia the opportunity to kind of highlight our last point-in-time count that our officers went out there and tried to find resources, identify how many homeless are in the city, and see what the next steps that they could have to maybe be successful in getting off the street.”
Taylor: “So every April our entire police department does what’s called a survey… in order to go out and get homeless outreach and resources to the homeless folks. So it’s all hands on deck. All of our officers go out and we contact as many homeless people as we can. And I believe our numbers this were right around (163) folks that we contacted. So the importance of that is so we know who our homeless population are, where they are located, and how we can get out to them and bring Toni to them and offer them resources.”
Q: Why are people being allowed to shoot up drugs near McDonald’s at I-80 and Antelope Road?
Russo: “Well, obviously we do not want people shooting up drugs in the public areas, and that’s a concern for us too. We encourage those that see activity like that to give us a call when it’s happening so that we can address it. Now that I’ve seen this question, I will definitely try to get some extra resources out there and remind people of where this is occurring, if some of our officers can do some extra patrols out there. But the best tool is for you guys to be our eyes and ears out there, and when you see that to give us a call on a non-emergency line: 727-5500.”
Q: Why does it seem true that there are more homeless in Citrus Heights than Roseville, Rocklin, etc.?
Taylor: “So I don’t know necessarily that there’s more, but it is sort of a revolving door. So we go out, we contact the homeless folks, we get them housed, and then others will kind of transition into our city.
“And again, most of them have ties here or will find their way here. So our homeless population throughout probably the last four or five surveys that we’ve done has stayed relatively consistent and we haven’t seen a huge spike. So it’s probably just a different population that you’re seeing and not an additional amount of subjects that you’re seeing as an influx.”
Russo: “On that same topic, yeah we do have homeless in Citrus Heights, but comparable across the county, our numbers are actually pretty low.
In 2018, police identified 186 homeless individuals in Citrus Heights, while in 2019, the police identified 163.
Q: Do other cities have a tougher approach on homelessness than Citrus Heights?
Russo: “I’m not sure. I don’t know the policies of some of our surrounding agencies and how their procedures differ. But what we do do is we fall within the law, and so are those other agencies around us. There are parameters.”
“What we do provide is we do try to find long-term solutions by providing those resources, by using our Navigator. So it’s not just a punishment phase or moving them along, but trying to get a long-term approach to resolve the problem — which over time should solve, over time, at least part of the problems for those that need help and want help. But those that don’t want help, those are the hard ones to resolve.”
Taylor: “And to piggyback on that, it is a regional effort. So it is us and the surrounding agencies all working together to make sure that we have consistent resources throughout the entire area.”
The city’s next Facebook live discussion is scheduled for Aug. 15 and will be on the topic of parks and activities, with the Sunrise Recreation and Parks District.
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