SPPD Welcomes County Grant to Combat Homelessness

The City of South Pasadena has received a $30,000 grant from Los Angeles County and United Way of Greater Los Angeles for hiring a consultant who will be tasked with analyzing and developing solutions for the homelessness issue that persists in certain corners of the city and across its borders. United Way’s Home for Good Funders Collaborative granted between $30,000 and $70,000 to 47 cities depending on the size of their homeless population. Other surrounding cities that received a grant include Alhambra, San Gabriel, Arcadia, and Monrovia, among others.

At the direction of Chief of Police Arthur Miller, Sergeant Shannon Robledo and Grants Analyst Karen Estevez applied for the County money, $2 million of which was donated by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Sergeant Robledo talks to one of the homeless people he visits on his weekly route. This person knows the sergeant on a first name basis. The two have been working together recently on her application for transitional housing with Union Station in Pasadena. Photo courtesy of South Pasadena Police Department.

“I wasn’t sure that we would receive the grant,” said Miller, last week. “But I am surprised and excited that we have this opportunity.”

The grant will only continue an ongoing concerted effort initiated by Miller and sustained by Robledo to adequately respond to the needs of the homeless and the concerns of the city’s residents.

Three years ago, Miller asked his officers to do a voluntary survey of the city’s homeless population to measure how the actual number compared to the one suggested by the public’s perception.  The department determined at the time that 14 homeless people laid their heads somewhere in South Pas. Miller and Robledo say the current number is approximately nine.

“We found out in the survey that most of the homeless are like, ‘Hey, I’m okay. I just need someone to talk to every now and then, I need a meal every once in a while. But I’m not going to bother anyone,’” said the chief.

This was the genesis of the department’s Homeless Outreach Program, or HOPE.

Before the program began, said Miller, a typical response to a nuisance or petty crime call would often result in a cop asking the reported homeless person to leave. The department attempted to take further measures, including requesting business owners to sign trespass letters authorizing the police to arrest anyone after hours onsite. But not all business owners minded homeless persons using their properties after hours, said Miller. “Some of the business owners were saying, ‘It doesn’t bother me, they can stay at my alcove.’”

Sergeant Robledo took The Review on a tour of some of the encampments and potential encampments homeless people use. Photo by Harry Yadav

Miller and Robledo insist the HOPE program, which tasked SPPD with getting to know the homeless on an unprecedentedly personal level, has dealt with homelessness much more effectively than in the past. Miller proudly described a record keeping binder the SPPD maintains that “has the name of each homeless person residing in the city, any medication they have, next of kin, where they sleep–and literally what bridge, bush, or area they sleep under.”

“What this did,” said Miller, “is create a situation where our officers can be face to face with the individual when there is nothing at issue. It opened up lines of communication.”

Robledo’s perception of homeless people has changed dramatically ever since he began to interact with them in person.

“I was the same as everybody else in my assumptions about the homeless,” Robledo admitted, “but after I began to step out of the patrol car and talk to them face to face, I began to realize these people need help with specific issues.”

In the last year and a half, as part of the HOPE program, Robledo has pulled together food vouchers, rudimentary clothing items, foul weather gear, hygiene supplies, and tokens for taxi services for health appointments to give to homeless whom he has gotten to know on a personal basis. Often, the funds for the aid he distributes come from his own pocket.

Whether these individuals are struggling with mental health or drug abuse problems, or simply have insufficient incomes, Robledo has become an advocate for their rights and to many, a friend.

Plans for hiring a consultant to bring more aid to the SPPD are just beginning.