Webinar presenter Daniel McDonald answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Saving Money while Saving Lives: Building a Business Case for a Homeless Outreach Team. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Over the past several years, our homeless outreach team has somehow morphed into the team that is called primarily to clear unauthorized homeless encampments. How do we begin to change this culture?
Daniel McDonald: That’s a very good question and there are some that do that. The one that comes to mind is in Seattle. I think they’re doing the best they can. When I started my assignment eight years ago, it is a kind of point of no return. My sole job is to be a problem solver. Most of the time it is lack of housing, no IDs, lack of income, etc. My job is to help the homeless. I don’t make arrests. If they have a warrant, I will call someone else so that doesn’t affect their perception of me. They have to be able to contact me and know that anything they tell me is in confidence. As I’ve said it before, the only commodity I have is trust and that if I lose that then I’m done. I was able to leverage that trust recently to fill our Tent City in a day and a half, at a secret location, by word of mouth. The homeless already knew they would get fair treatment from us. If I do clear an encampment that is on private property, I will work with a property owner, asking if they can give me some time. I will work with the homeless and tell them they have to leave in a reasonable time, and I’ll come up with options for them. They know what my next move is because I tell them. Using homeless outreach teams to clear encampments some days then try to help on the others sends mixed messages. If the camp has to be cleared because of public health reasons or safety then that should be done by someone else such as code enforcement. But I think should be the last resort, not the first resort.
Audience Question: Do your housing options allow the homeless to keep their pets or do you have some sort of arrangement for housing such as that of the local shelter?
Daniel McDonald: Very good question and I’m actually a big pet advocate and a pet owner myself. I have cats. I actually flew a cat to Boston for adoption that was going to be homeless. I have housed many people with pets although it’s a little trickier. You may want to read my blog entry at “Housing Gone Wrong: The Life (and Death) of John Chadwick” https://homelesspolice.com/housing-gone-wrong-life-death-john-chadwick. He was offered permanent housing but would have to give up his pet so he ended up committing suicide. His friend, Dee Bonnet in England who contacted me about John’s death and so I wrote the blog. I’ve found that if someone has a pet, they are usually their lifeline and their only family. Statistically people treat their pets better as homeless than the non-homeless. They will often feed their pet before they feed themselves. So in those cases, I usually move them from the streets directly into permanent housing. Some of the more progressive shelters will have pet options however in my community we don’t. So it makes a little trickier but homeless with pets but it’s not a deal-breaker. As a pet advocate myself, I’ll do everything I can to help them.
Audience Question: At some point, do you transition a homeless person from you to a social worker? So I assumed from working with you to working with the social worker.
Daniel McDonald: Yes…there are different models for homeless outreach teams such using co-responders in Sarasota, Florida. They have social workers partnered with officers. I work by myself so I’m an amateur caseworker, amateur psychologist, amateur addictions recovery specialist. If someone is going in the permanent supportive housing, I refer them to the necessary services which are built into the budget of the housing provider. They will get the caseworker, social worker, mental health addictions assigned to them and I hand them off to them. I still see them and many still call me. I work very closely with social workers and case managers. If I was starting a co-responder team, I would like a housing person on my team because housing is the most difficult obstacle in many communities. I’ve only ever been the one place that does not have an affordable housing problem (Antarctica). Everywhere else has an affordable housing crisis. I do work with many agencies and social workers, and it’s a team effort. I’m not in my silo — they’re not in their Silo — we all work together. One of the necessary skills for homeless outreach officers is their ability to develop relationships with the other agencies and other disciplines.
Audience Question: Here in Colorado Springs, I know our leaders had a number of significant issues that they had to overcome in terms of setting up a shelter specifically for COVID positive homeless. Just wondering Dan can you share any best practices? Are you seeing this being done in other communities? Is anyone doing a really good job managing this or is everyone kind of feeling the way through the dark, like it seems like our community was here?
Daniel McDonald: This is brand new territory for everyone but there are options. Sheltering in place is the best option. Other options include renting motel rooms or even an entire motel. Our community has rented two motels for six months. One motel is for people that are quarantined and the other is for people that are isolated and need to reduce the risk of being exposed to the virus. You can have different groups of rooms for the homeless and you can other groups for high-risk individuals such as the elderly or those with medical conditions. Some communities are doing a not very good job. In Las Vegas, they were actually putting people in the parking lot: no tent – guests were literally sleeping in a parking space, on the asphalt. That’s not a good idea. Some communities are using convention centers. That’s a decent idea but then you have issues with interaction. Individual hotel or motel rooms seem to work best. Cruise ships may be an option. They have individual cabins and are used to having very rigorous sanitation procedures. I think motels are my preference and what I’d suggest to your community.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Saving Money while Saving Lives: Building a Business Case for a Homeless Outreach Team.