From this week's Print Edition

A Multi-Agency Homeless Operation Comes to So Pas

A Chance Encounter with a Former Homeless Man Shows Outreach Does Work
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Robert “Cowboy” Heitman has spent nine years turning his homeless living quarters into a large room with a coach, bed and even art work on the walls. Photos by Steve Whitmore

In a stepped-up effort to get homeless people off the streets and into more permanent housing, a multi-agency operation was in So Pas this last Friday morning sharing resources and information to those in need.

The operation, known as the Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST), was comprised of law enforcement officers from La Verne, Pomona, Glendora and So Pas. The team of nearly a dozen officers fanned out across several cities in Los Angeles County Friday talking with about 150 people without permanent housing.

The operation is funded by the Los Angeles County initiative known as Measure H.

“The homeless we encounter in our city tend to move,” said South Pasadena Police Department (SPPD) Sgt. Shannon Robledo Friday during the operation. “They are transient and tend to move from city to city. A lot of them are along the Gold Line, along our river beds, and the cities that we work with are also along the Gold Line and knowing what resources they have, we can combine them with ours. And the same people we’re dealing with they are dealing with too. We are all dealing with the same people.”

Robledo is the point person for the SPPD and has been for the past several years. He said it’s always been important to him to help those in need.

“It’s what this is all about,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I became a police officer.”

There are about 15 people in the So Pas area that are considered homeless, Robledo said. These are people that he sees all the time and it’s the constant contact that forms the basis of his estimate.

“Basically, you see them all the time,” Robledo said. “I know more or less where they are hanging out. We know the city like the back of our hand. We just deal with them all the time and not on a negative basis. That’s how we know there are 15.”

Robledo prides himself and his fellow HOST team members that they interact with the homeless in a positive fashion.

“It’s all in how you approach the person,” he said. “You treat them as an equal and you find the connection, whether it be music, fashion or whatever. Find the connection and you begin to have a relationship.”

Robert “Cowboy” Heitman says he’s perfectly happy living under a local bridge. Photos by Steve Whitmore

One such relationship is with Robert “Cowboy” Heitman, who lives underneath the San Pasqual bridge just over the border of Los Angeles. However, he’s also in So Pas and therefore Robledo and others are more than familiar with his living arrangements.

Heitman, 69 – originally from about 135 miles west of San Antonio, Texas, thus the nickname “cowboy” – has lived in his elaborate shelter under the bridge for nine years.

“I love it here,” Heitman said as he gave a tour of his living quarters that include a closed-in bedroom and couch with paintings on the wall. The enclosure is part cement, part plastic and is about 150 square feet of living space with an outside sitting area that sports two easy wicker chairs.

“My neighbors have been great,” Heitman said. “They have been very supportive and like it that I’m here. I watch over things.”

Heitman became homeless when he lost his job and then the love of his life.

“It was over a woman,” he said. “I hate to admit that but it’s true. I am homeless because of a woman.”

Heitman said he was perfectly happy living under the bridge in his well-manicured and well-appointed home.

And that appears to be the question that sometimes goes unanswered: Does all this outreach actually work? Does anybody get off the streets from these types of encounters with law enforcement?

On this Friday that question was going to be answered in an unlikely encounter with Cayce Redding, 64, of Highland Park. Redding was on the Gold Line platform in Pasadena when he ran into Robledo. They remembered each other. Robledo remembered Redding from several encounters more than a year ago.

“He used to pan handle all the time,” Robledo said. “He’s a nice guy.”

Redding remembered Robledo as the nice officer that always was reaching out to him to get off the streets. Six months ago, after spending five-long-years on the streets, he did just that and is in a permanent home in Highland Park.

“Sgt. Robledo, I remember him,” Redding said Friday afternoon on the Gold Line platform in Pasadena. “He was always so helpful to me. He was giving me resources all the time. He even made telephone calls for me. I remember him. His outreach helped me. I’ve been off the streets now for six months.”

There is an old saying that if you can help just one person, it’s worth all the effort.

Robledo put it a different way, saying Redding’s success is everybody’s success.

“It made me very happy, seeing Cayce again,” Robledo said. “That really is why we do this and you don’t get to see that every day. You don’t get to see the person you tried to help. It was great seeing Cayce today…Makes it all worthwhile.”

Steve Whitmore

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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