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enforcement agencies, they are called upon to interact with our homeless population. Gilroy P.D. Sergeant Jason Smith talked with TODAY about how local law enforcement assists with the homeless population. As someone who has served on the Gilroy P.D.’s homeless liaison officers’ task force, Jason has firsthand knowledge of this issue. “Our police department reports in regularly, at the City Council’s request, in response to the City’s 15-point plan to end homelessness. The plan includes both short and long-term initiatives. In the short-term, the focus is on enforcing city codes such as locking public restrooms from 10 pm until dawn, and upholding zero tolerance for quality of life crimes against the community related to panhandling, trespassing, narcotics, public intoxication and vandalism. Jason said it was important to have community stakehold- ers on the same page to pursue long-term solutions. One of their tasks is to work with the city’s public works department and the Santa Clara Valley Water District to clean up creek- side encampments, which create an environmental problem particularly when unsanitary garbage ends up in the creeks. “We post an area designated for cleanup three days to a week in advance. We are empathetic to the people encamped in these areas. They need a place to go, but creekside encampments are illegal and unsafe. Our focus is on encouraging them to gather their things and vacate the area, not on issuing citations. Last year, we supported the water district on a series of cleanups, removing 50 tons of garbage.” As far as community awareness, he suggested that “when citizens see someone whose behavior is dangerous or erratic, or who is urinating in public or panhandling on the street, for example, they should call us immediately so we can address it.” “We need to remove the stigma associated with mental health challenges.” Erin O’Brian Gilroy Compassion Center. A year and a half later, I was gmh A kind, courageous woman took time out of her day to share her journey from struggle and homelessness to restoration. It was an honor to hear her story. “I had a very bad marriage and then fell into substance abuse. With little family support I ended up homeless and on the streets for a year. Everything in my life came crashing down at once. I didn’t want to ask for help but I did. I got housing and went through a rehabilitation program. I’ve been clean for ten years now. After moving to South County, I enrolled at Gavilan and became a volunteer at hired as the Center’s first paid employee, and I’m studying for a degree in Collaborative Health Services at Cal State Monterey. Here’s what I know. You can’t lump the homeless When asked about the makeup of the local homeless population, Jason described it as a mixed bag. “It’s people young and old. Men and women. Employed and jobless. We develop relationships with the homeless on an individual basis and provide them with resource pamphlets as part of our outreach. If a homeless person presents a danger to himself or others or is gravely disabled we can place a mental health hold on him. He would then be transported by ambulance to a county mental health facility, or if he has medical insurance it might be another facility, so he can receive assistance.” “Occasionally we encounter runaway youths who have no place to go, but it’s pretty rare. We can place them in protective custody and contact social services to work out a placement. What’s more common is to find youth who are on the streets because they have experienced abuse at home.” “We also advocate to the county to fund full-time case management professionals to work with the homeless population, and we reach out to county offices, faith-based organizations and non-profits, coordinating with them to help the homeless get the help they need. We meet once a month to discuss individuals in need of specific services and housing.” GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN Dee’s Story population into one category. Many are students, others have severe disabilities. The lack of affordable housing is putting people on the streets and two-thirds develop mental health and substance abuse challenges as a result of living on the streets. Our community needs to rise above the ‘us versus them’ mindset. When you get to know people in the home- less community you see the humanity and you can’t hold onto preconceived notions anymore. Everyone can be part of the solution. It can start by supporting the agencies that are doing good work.” Daleen Pearse, Program Director Gilroy Compassion Center Collaborative Health Services Major, CAL State Monterey JULY / AUGUST 2016 gmhtoday.com 31