Presentation Minutes

City of Tacoma Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)

  • Lieutenant Travis, Tacoma Police Department, supervises the HOT team -
  • Erica Azcueta, City of Tacoma, Human Services Division -
  • The HOT team is composed of 4 police officers and one supervisor - just staffed with 3 patrol officers right now, though. (glad to hear it isn’t just us that is struggling to fill positions – ed.)
  • Have embedded Human Services staff and a Mental Health Professional on the team
  • Goal of the HOT team is to connect and engage people experiencing homelessness
  • We try to connect folks experiencing homelessness to services.  You, as service providers, all do a lot of great work – and we needed to be better partners with you. 
  • I’ve interacted with many of you, but appreciate being able to put a name to a face today.    
  • The HOT team is trying to connect folks to services.  It is challenging for police officers to know what all services are available.  We want to be efficient and provide quality services – and know it isn’t one time, it is often 20 or 30 interactions with individuals before they are interesting in engaging.  We want to fully understand what is available and what is not available. 
  • As police, we know we are not going to “arrest people out of a situation”. 
  • We are comfortable going out 10 or 20 times to engage with someone.
  • If we can get one person to services – it is a win. 
  • Al – What is a typical contact, and what happens during it?  Lt. Travis – It can start with a  citizen call to 311, or citizen or business complaints, or a call from a Police patrol that gets referred to us.  The HOT team then goes out, with code enforcement, and we try to contact and engage them, see if they are involved in services.  We’ll bring Bobby Ocasio and Kiedrick O’Bannon to get them connected.  Every call is a bit different.  We try to find things to mitigate a situation.  It might just be a ride, or connecting them to other services.  Most calls are repeated contacts to get folks services and get them connected.  The police are beholden to the city and residents and businesses, but also beholden to the person experiencing homelessness.  Most people want help and are compliant, but many are suffering, perhaps with an addiction or mental illness.  We try to get the connected to services to help them.  However, sometimes we have to do enforcement – but we enforce the behavior, not the person (just as Saint Augustine famously wrote –Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum – Love the sinner and hate the sin.  While St. Augustine is the first known use of the phrase, most credit Gandhi’s 1929 biography – and more correctly ,the 1948 English translation, with popularizing the phrase.  If you’ve not had a chance to read any of Gandhi’s writings, you are missing out.  A favorite quote of mine is “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. “ –ed).
  • Patricia – if you arrest someone and take the away from their camp and belongings, what do you do to keep their things safe?  Lt. Travis -  We take their belongings to a storage facility – the Cavanaugh site.  They get a receipt for it.  They can then claim their property.  Patricia – what if they lose their receipt?  Lt. Travis - I’ll take that question off line.
  • Maureen – sometimes social media has some pretty atrocious statements from community members – do you have a 2 liner that any of us could post, not to change someone’s opinion – but something to give them some direction, like “call 311” and about what it is you do or can expect.  Lt. Travis – sometimes things get portrayed in the media, we have a new community engagement person and is working to get our social media aspect up and running – and I would like to connect you to them.  We don’t like to make general statements.  We just addressed a community concern – a person who was homeless that committed a crime.  We didn’t engage with the person because they were homeless, but because they committed a crime.  Maureen – you can make a general statement that directs people to what to do – “call 311 and the hot team with MHPs and such will connect in with them”?  Lt. Travis – I’m on board with that.  I’ll get Jason involved in that.  We as police officers don’t do a good job telling our story of what we do well.  I’ll take your advice and get with them.
  • Travis – as police officers, this engagement approach to people experiencing homelessness is new to us.
  • Al – Are you deployed city-wide?  Lt. Travis – yes.  Our original focus was the downtown , but we do go into the rest of the city, although most folks are located downtown. 
  • Al – I would really invite your staff to come to these meetings as often as they can.  Lt. Travis -  I want the team out in the field engaging folks.  I need to balance how much I take them away from that for training.    
  • Joe – your job is terrible.  Lt. Travis – I love my job, and I’m thankful the citizens employ me in this job.  I appreciate the citizens.  Joe - You are in a position between folks breaking the law and you not having the resources to provide to them.  Lt. Travis - Citizens often have expectations of us, and we need to educate them on what we can do and what we will do.  Yes people are property owners and have rights, but folks experiencing homelessness also have rights.  (this simple, declarative statement warms my heart –ed.)
  • Theresa – he is mentioning our block – we have lots of tents and drug dealing.  We could have hundreds of people doing outreach, but as long as there is no place those folks can be, we will struggle.  We need to have clear places that people can camp.  Can you  use your position to push that?  Travis – there are some ongoing conversations – we are looking at best practices and looking at what the right answer is.  We are trying to find what other people are doing. (hint, it involves making safe places for people to camp, or spending money on shelters and permanent housing –ed) I’m not a great politician – I like to be direct.  We have some suggestions, and none have gotten traction – it would be good to have a discussion about  that.  Theresa – you aren’t going to make a dent until you have something you can say about what people are doing.  I don’t have solutions – if I did, I would write a book and get rich (second hint, there is no way to get rich in human services. –ed)
  • Patricia – you don’t need to write the book - tent city urbanism is a great book (info at -ed.) that can address many of these things.  In Tacoma, the tent city code creates barriers – because a police precinct can only have one tent city.  MaryBeth – the City has unused land – it would be nice if they could offer that up for a tent city. 
  • James – we often provide information to the HOT team on where someone is in the homeless system – what the person is currently working on.  Lt. Travis – Yes, we do work to support folks.
  • Question - Are there other HOT teams in other jurisdictions?  Lt. Travis – no.  Pierce County has a couple deputies that are assigned to do similar work, but I don’t have many details on that.  As far as I know, we are the only ones here. 
  • Question – do you only work in Tacoma?  Lt. Travis – we go a bit further if it impacts Tacoma – will partner with the County to go beyond our normal boundaries.  (“Deputy sheriff said to me, Tell me what you came here for boy, You better get your bags and flee, You're in trouble boy, and now you're heading into more, It's the same old story, everywhere I go, I get slandered, Libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible, And I'm one step ahead of the shoe shine, Two steps away from the county line…” – Paul Simon  -ed.)
  • Question – what training do your deputies receive? Lt. Travis – all officers receive Mental health training –some 60% have done a 40 hour course – everyone gets 8 hours per year.  Question – implicit bias training?  Lt. Travis – every officer get that as well, I just finished an 8 hour class last week.
  • Question – when you encounter someone that you want to connect with resources – what does a warm hand off to a referral look like?  The Mental Health Professional does the referral.
  • Maureen – the Mayors are meeting across jurisdictions, if the law enforcement all sang the same song about the need for local hot teams, that would make a difference – so go find your law enforcement friends.  Lt. Travis – the Tacoma Fire Department started an opioid taskforce that is coming on-line.  They are going to have a team to go out in real time to get folks with addiction.  I can’t force folks to do that – Marueen – someone has to introduce them to the idea…  Lt. Travis – I think the politicians will be interested when they hear about the success of the program.
  • Travis – Patrol also has 2 Designated Mental Health Professionals –DMHP – (info about DMHPs, or DCPs as they are now called, from a previous presentation is at –ed) embedded on patrol – as well as one in the HOT team.  The DMHPs have done great work with us.  I’m looking forward to the work of the homeless task force. 

Emily Less – does the HOT team do naloxone distribution?  Lt. Travis – no.   Emily – the State Department of Health has new program to provide access to this resource.  Lt. Travis – lets connect

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