SPPD HOPE | Officers Aid and Educate Homeless About Coronavirus (COVID-19) During Uncertain Times

South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz says his officers are providing homeless individuals with information on the pandemic and encourage medical assistance if needed

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena Police Department Chief, Joe Ortiz, says the department is taking many precautionary measures in keeping the homeless population and his own officers safe and healthy

They’re tasked daily with fighting crime and keeping the public safe, but in recent weeks members of the South Pasadena Police Department have found themselves at the frontlines educating a highly vulnerable group about what President Trump calls the “silent enemy” on America.

Without television, radio or the means to follow the world’s current state of affairs concerning the novel coronavirus, SPPD HOPE (Homeless, Outreach, Program for Education) officers have been conducting outreach day and night while out on patrol to assist the homeless and educate them about COVID-19, the importance on social distancing as well as providing available resources, including emergency shelters in the area.

The homeless are among those at highest risk because they sleep together in close quarters in shelters, are less likely to see doctors and have a higher prevalence of respiratory problems and other chronic health issues that make them more vulnerable, according to public health officials and advocates for the homeless,” said Joe Ortiz, South Pasadena’s police chief.

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Funded through Measure H, Los Angeles County is two years into a 10-year effort to combat and prevent homelessness. Throughout its life-cycle, the measure is designed to raise about $3.5 billion to aid the homeless through a one-quarter of a cent sales tax, which generates funds for the specific purposes of funding homeless services and short-term housing. This is a cost of approximately $3.5 million annually.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Homeless individuals were offered a list of local resources and backpacks containing care/hygiene kits, cold weather gear, blankets, hats, water and granola bars

Getting the homeless off the streets is a complex issue that civic leaders and police chiefs like Ortiz know is not going to be solved overnight.

According to the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, at the forefront in providing housing assistance and vital services, the organization has helped thousands of individuals and families find emergency shelter, guiding them to financial recovery, while improving the lives of thousands of men, women and children experiencing homelessness.

Through its efforts, Measure H is projected to enable 45,000 families and individuals to escape homelessness in the first five years and the South Pasadena Police Department will continue to do its part in that effort.

Funded through Measure H, the South Pasadena Police Department is part of a multi-agency Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) providing services in the field to engage chronically homeless individuals with mental illness, helping put them into permanent supportive housing. HOST staff members work with individuals in completing necessary applications and other paperwork to help get a roof over their head.

The organization also offers recovery-based wraparound case management services to recover, gain wellness, and reintegrate into a community. Its ultimate goal is independence and self-sufficiency.

Locally, HOST team members, comprised of officers in the San Gabriel Valley, has eight outreach deployments scheduled for April as the South Pasadena Police Department will be working with agencies from San Marino, Alhambra, Monterey Park, and San Gabriel in assisting the homeless population.

“For almost two years, the South Pasadena Police Department has had a new strategy for policing the homeless – one guided by compassion,” explained Ortiz. “It’s rolling out a new team of officers dedicated to ‘helping’ rather than ‘dealing with’ homeless people. Our officers wear many hats while in the community and often times our Social Worker Hat goes on more than you think. The SPPD prides itself on its commitment to tolerance and liberal values, but across the county, record levels of homelessness have spurred a backlash against those who live on the streets.”

The South Pasadena Police Department continues to work with county authorities in deploying hand-washing stations near homeless encampments in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Ortiz said his officers take stringent precautionary measures and limit their exposure, while washing their hands frequently and maintaining social distancing. “While on-duty, an employee shall use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and take immediate measures to prevent exposure,” he explained. “For most basic level contacts PPE consists of respiratory protection (preferably an N95 mask or P100 mask), eye protection, a gown and gloves.”

The police chief said officers also are providing the homeless with information on the pandemic and encourage medical assistance if needed.