Temecula police offers fanned out across the city Monday, Dec. 11 – not to arrest criminals but to bring a little hope and cheer to the homeless in need of shelter, food or work this high holiday season.
As the nights get colder, many of the homeless population don’t know where to turn for help. The city of Temecula working with the Temecula Police and local social service agencies sought to give those homeless living in the streets, the river bottom and parks at night, a place to come for the day to have a little food, hope and comfort.
The Temecula Community Center at 28816 Pujol Street was the ideal place for the city’s first Homeless Outreach day where the homeless, whatever their circumstances are, could find a social service agency, nonprofit group, housing specialists or mental health assistance for day – a day that could mean the break they need to be self-sufficient, with a roof over their heads, a job, food on the table and mentally healthy.
The Temecula’s Police Department with designated funding for the homeless and needy from the City of Temecula, has four special police officers called the Homeless Outreach Team or H.O.T., led by Lt. Dean Spivacke whose only duty is to seek out the homeless and build a trust with them and support from the residents of the city concerned with the welfare of the growing homeless population throughout the region.
The H.O.T. officers were successful in locating approximately 15 to 20 homeless in the city and either directed them or helped them get to the Community Center where they could find a little food, and help for their specific problems.
As they arrived at the center, participants were handed a bag of essential food from Siggys and the Temecula Lions Club, toiletries, coffee or a soft drink and even a free haircut if needed. Directing the homeless arrivals to the representatives of many social help services was Robin Gilliland, Homeless Outreach Liaison, her staff and volunteers. But most ready to assist were representatives of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, Riverside County Department of Rehabilitation, Workshop Centers of Riverside County, Operation Safe House, Path of Life from Riverside, Project Touch and a new team of nonprofit professionals from City Net contracted by the city who work to end street-level homelessness through the coordination of community efforts and activities.
“Our goal for the day,” Gilliland said, “is to alleviate barriers to the homeless. If they can connect to the resource they may be qualified for an EBT card, gain other services and be directed to our Winter Shelter at the Extended Stay Hotel.” (by referral -must be clean and sober)
“Stephen” who has been homeless for the past three and one-half years and who had spent several nights at the Temecula Winter Shelter, unshouldered his backpack and sat down with a City Net professional and with her help filled out the paperwork that hopefully will find him permanent shelter, a job and the help he will need to live a productive life in a friendly environment.
“I have been homeless for the past three and a half years since I lost my job, my family because of drugs, but because of grace and faith as a Christian, I have been clean a sober for two years,” Stephen said. The papers he filled out at the Outreach event may soon land him a place to stay and job.
Other homeless took the opportunity to apply for a state identification card, see about obtaining an EBT card, have a little food or get a badly need haircut by volunteer barber and hair stylist Zuberi Shakir from Babu da Barbers. Shakir was one of two barbers who gave free haircuts to the homeless in need.
The help was there for whoever needed it. Spivacke said his team daily seeks out the homeless in the community and work with the city and its Community Services Department to build a better rapport with the homeless and steer them to the help they need and to educate the public that not all homeless are criminals but people really in need. He said residents who give money and food to the homeless on the streets is both a “good and a bad thing.” He encouraged those who wish to help the homeless to find a nonprofit or faith based organization dedicated to helping the homeless to donate to. By giving on the streets it often enables the homeless not helps them find the help they need, Spivake said.
The Homeless Outreach effort, according to Temecula Senior Management Analyst Erica Russo, who heads up the Community Services Department, the city has been collaborating with the police department with some success in the past year.
Spivake said due in part to the collaboration that since January – when the last homeless count was made – the known homeless has dropped from 85 to 65.
“A lot of socio economics factor to bring about those experiencing homelessness in the community,” Russo said. “The city needs to be responsive to community and to those who need help and also to businesses and residents who express concern about the homeless in our community.”
Russo said meetings with other cities who are experiencing similar homeless problems and police departments have resulted in the formation of a Regional Homeless Alliance, to find even more solutions to the situation.
“Now we have a lot of boots on the ground,” she said.
Cities in the Regional Homeless Alliance include; Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake,