Story and photo by JENNA BAILEY
As a part of the Executive Director’s report at the Homelessness and Housing Alliance (HHA) Annual Meeting held on November 16, 2017 – HHA Executive Director, Sarah Yelverton, reported to the meeting’s attendees that the HHA staff had been participating in crisis intervention trainings for local law enforcement. HHA surveyed law enforcement on crisis intervention gaps and needs from their perspective. Survey answers provided by law enforcement were as listed: One Stop Shop; 24 hour service center; county specific cards with resources; ID cards that include behavioral and physical health issues; shelters or drop off centers; treatment and housing assistance for persons with TB, HIV/AIDS, dementia, and mental illness; residential care facilities; outreach teams to assist law enforcement so they can move on to the next crisis; 24/7 service contact information and somewhere to bring them instead of incarcerating them; basic needs for children and families living in tents; lockers to secure personal property to eliminate theft among homeless; basic healthcare teams to assist with minor illnesses such as flu, cold, and prevent infections; vaccinations; a property where they can sleep in their tents that does not violate trespass laws; larger and more frequent inclement weather shelters in Fort Walton Beach; resource guides; mobile teams ready to be deployed when law enforcement is on the scene; loosen the rules on assistance (too many barriers for food, diapers, clothing and shelter).
Local law enforcement also provided the concerns they have regarding homeless individuals. Concerns expressed in the report were: safety for the homeless and others, too many thefts due to lack of basic life needs, lack of medical care for homeless persons and the spread of disease and infection, sexual assault against women, lack of treatment and diagnosis for homeless with mental health/substance abuse issues, children not being enrolled in school; potential for increased crime out of desperation, homeless are consistently victims of crimes; homeless are committing too many crimes; criminal activities to survive; intoxicated persons harassing citizens.
Yelverton concluded her report of the law enforcement survey by stating, “This was very eye opening to me and a great way to understand how law enforcement feel about the homeless population and what we need to do to help take the burden off law enforcement.”