OCEANSIDE — It’s been one year since the Oceanside Police Department launched its Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT team, to address city homeless.
HOT team officers take a social outreach approach, and work to connect homeless individuals with needed services. It is the only law enforcement team of its kind in North County.
Officer Josh Ferry said the first year was spent letting the community know the team’s goal, which differs from traditional code enforcement.
“As our society changes its needs we’ve been changing as well,” Ferry said. “We’ve been trying to look at things from a different approach and different angle. Trying to get people service connected in a way that is not a traditional law enforcement type of approach.”
HOT team officers wear a distinct uniform that includes a black polo shirt, which is more relaxed than the standard police button down. The uniform helps identify officers, and lets homeless individuals know they are there to help.
Ferry said the team has been well received, established good connections with service providers and changed lives of some city homeless. He added community awareness has also increased referrals from residents and fellow officers.
The HOT team fills the gap for those who do not look for services on their own.
HOT team officers work regularly with Interfaith Community Services and Alpha Project. Social workers from the organizations help assess homeless individuals, identify their needs and direct them to the most beneficial services.
HOT team officers transport individuals to get identification cards, and medical and mental health services, which are often first steps to a better future.
The end goal is for individuals to secure permanent housing.
“We try to help them navigate through the system,” Ferry said. “It’s extra assistance to get them to the next level.”
The needs of homeless individuals are diverse. Ferry said it often takes repeated contacts before individuals accept help.
“The homeless issue is nothing that will be solved overnight,” Ferry said. “It’s a work in progress. We’re still building those bridges.”
Ferry shared the success story of a mentally ill woman who is now housed and functioning within society, after she connected with services and began taking the proper medication.
Another success is a once homeless veteran who, after repeated contacts, accepted housing assistance that he said others should have before him.
Ferry said once an individual takes ownership and responsibility their life improves.
Going into its second year the HOT team is looking to work more closely with service providers by providing shared office space and getting a van, which would allow providers to ride along with officers in the field.
“We’re looking forward to just trying to have all of our networking we’ve done in the past year pay off and be more streamlined, where we can do more outreach and get in contact with folks that need help,” Ferry said.
North County has an estimated 1,500 homeless people.