The following is an Open Letter to the community by Fairfield police chief Joseph F. Allio as he discusses homelessness and blight. The letter was issued on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016
One of the biggest challenges facing our community is homelessness and the blight that can accompany it. The issue of homelessness is an extremely complicated problem that cannot be solved by one entity alone. Agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels are all struggling to develop a comprehensive plan to get to the root cause and improve the quality of life for all citizens. Issues of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and criminal activity add increasing layers to the complexity of the problem.
As one of the most visible arms of local government, the Police Department is often asked to solve many of the community’s challenges. Two years ago we realized a need to take different steps to address homelessness. We looked at various approaches and examined arrest numbers for some of our “frequent flyers” (homeless individuals we have contacted on a regular basis over the years) and looked at five random individuals.
The five individuals we looked at averaged 33 arrests or citations over the last five years. Despite the enforcement action taken, they are still homeless and continuing with the same pattern of behavior. The drain on City resources is staggering when you consider the booking fees, in excess of five hours of staff time throughout the department to process the incident and store personal property, and that in the end the action provided no solution to the problem.
Recognizing that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, we created the Homeless Intervention Team. The team’s mission is simple; make a connection with our homeless population to help those we can, and take enforcement action against those we can’t. The team was established with one Police Officer and one Police Sergeant, and is currently staffed by two Police Officers, managed by a Police Lieutenant.
As of September 2016, the team has made tremendous progress. In just 24 months, this two officer team has made 139 arrests, issued 449 citations, cleaned up 246 encampments, made 3,500 contacts, responded to 2,672 calls for service, responded to 2,009 self-initiated incidents, and prepared 236 police reports.
More importantly, the Homeless Intervention Team has made a difference in people’s lives. They have helped over 168 people get off the streets. Individuals have been relocated into homes of family members, enrolled into rehabilitation programs, or placed into housing. We have helped over 140 people get emergency mental health evaluations and connected numerous more with mental health services.
One of the people the Homeless Intervention Team met was a 72-year old woman who was living in Lee Bell Park. Due to her dementia she believed she owned the land and called it her home. She had been contacted by police and City staff numerous times. Each time she was confrontational and uncooperative. She was arrested several times for misdemeanor violations, but always quickly returned back to the park after being released from jail. This cycle continued until the team got involved and took a different approach.
Over time, our Homeless Intervention Team was able to befriend her and learned she was from Cuba and came to the United States by way of Canada when she was in her teens. She became a U.S. citizen and married her husband, who was in the Navy. After he was discharged from the service they moved to Napa where they opened an electrical business. When her husband passed away, she began to experience symptoms of dementia. Without anyone to help her with her responsibilities, she lost everything and somehow ended up on the streets of Fairfield.
Officers on the Homeless Intervention Team convinced her to move into the Bridge to Life Center at Mission Solano. While she was living there, she received medical treatment, three meals a day and lived in a room by herself. Over an eight month period officers on the team took her to I.N.S. in Sacramento and obtained paperwork so she could start receiving Social Security, as well as her survivor benefits through the military. They petitioned the courts for conservatorship so she could live in a dementia facility with twenty-four hour supervision. Once this was granted she was moved into this facility where she will be taken care of for the rest of her life.
The Homeless Intervention Team also befriended an 18-year old boy who was living under an overpass. To escape an abusive home, he came to California with someone who quickly abandoned him. They were able to contact a family friend back home in Pennsylvania who agreed to take him in. The young man is currently attending high school and has a part time job.
As a complement to our Homeless Intervention Team, we have taken steps to increase our capacity to effectively and compassionately address people with mental health issues. Every officer in the Fairfield Police Department has received basic Crisis Intervention Training, and we have established a Crisis Intervention Team whose officers have received additional advanced training. We have partnered with Solano County on the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction grant to help address the mental health needs of adult and juvenile offenders.
Based on this experience we have learned that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis, nor can we do it alone. The Police Department is only one part of the solution. In September 2016, the City Council updated its comprehensive strategy to address homelessness. The City is also working with other Cities and the County to develop a coordinated regional response.
The Fairfield Police Department understands the community’s frustration and is working to balance the needs of the community with the rights of all individuals. We believe all the people we encounter in our communities should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, economic status, or housing situation.
Joseph F. Allio
Chief of Police