More than 400 homeless people have exited the streets of Anaheim, California, since the city changed its approach to homelessness, officials say.
The city’s new strategy focuses around a community response team made up of trained professionals who are called upon to help addicted or mentally ill homeless people.
“Before, the police department had trained police officers who could address these issues, but really, we need individuals whose vocation and passion are in this, who spent years on education,” Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros told The Epoch Times on May 13.
A community care response team (CCRT) is partnering with the Anaheim Police Department on the pilot program, which officials hope will expand and enhance homeless outreach efforts.
Since it began in January, the program has helped remove more than 400 people from the streets, Cisneros said.
The goal is to assign a team of nurse practitioners, mental health technicians, social workers, outreach workers, and unarmed security workers to calls regarding nonviolent issues of homelessness, rather than dispatching police.
“The community care response team is the next step in our ongoing initiative to address homelessness in Anaheim,” city spokeswoman Lauren Gold told The Epoch Times. “By creating dedicated teams of outreach workers, mental health clinicians, and nurses, we can offer effective outreach and services to get those living in homelessness off the streets and on a pathway toward a better life while also restoring our public spaces for everyone to enjoy.”
The effort began by reimagining policing when it came to answering calls with no criminal or public safety concern, the police chief said.
Every year, the city responds to about 2,000 calls regarding homelessness, he said. This year, with the new program, Anaheim reported a reduction of 27 percent in non-crime-related homelessness calls.
“There are some individuals that do commit crimes, and those individuals will be held accountable,” he said. “But overall, I think street exits is the way that we look at this, making sure these individuals are getting off the streets and the services needed.”
The crisis response team works to help those experiencing homelessness in a variety of ways. While some may need assistance finding shelter, others may need treatment to overcome and cope with drug dependency and mental health issues.
“Now we have a group of professionals who are coming out here and engaging with individuals going through a traumatic period in their lives, and hopefully this group can get them the assistance they need,” Cisneros said.