Brea Police Officer Teri Hill always has her cell phone on. Monday through Sunday, night or day, if it rings, dings or vibrates she picks up.
As the Homeless Liaison Officer for the Brea Police Department, Hill learned on the job that if she wanted to get things done with the homeless population, she had to earn their trust.
This meant being ready when the phone rang.
Picking up when somebody needed advice.
Knowing where to take someone if they agreed to go to a shelter.
Or maybe it was having the funds to buy someone a bus ticket home so they could get back to their family.
Being consistent, dependable, and sometimes brutally honest is what made Hill a good officer, but it’s her compassion and empathy that made her an amazing Homeless Liaison Officer.
After nearly five years on the homeless beat and 26 years as a police officer, Hill is hanging up her 20-pound holster and retiring. She may take a few months off, unfurl from a busy and overwhelming career, but at 50, Hill is ready for her second act.
“I’ve been a police officer for 26 years and I’ve had a lot of different roles – patrol, I was a detective, I worked the DARE program and then went back to patrol. Right around this time I started working with the homeless more,” Hill said. “Orange County was starting to see more of a problem and then we got some money to build these teams that would focus on the homeless. I got the job.”
The position at the Brea Police Department was called a Homeless Liaison Officer, and the job was created thanks in large part to funding the department received from the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force, a group formed in 2017 by the State Legislature Assembly Bill 97 (Ting, 2017). The goal was to join forces with cities, law enforcement and community social service groups to address youth violence prevention, promote successful re-entry of offenders into the community and address homelessness and intervention.
In 2018, the Task Force held a one-of-kind Homeless Census, in order to find the real numbers of people living on Orange County streets. They also launched Outreach Grid, an app which allows non-profit partners and law enforcement to access shelters, social services and more with a tap of their phones.
Since then, more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness exited the streets and were connected to crisis, bridge and interim housing from connections and partners in the Task Force.
The last few years have been a whirl of successes, disappointments, and learning curves but one thing Hill can say is having a full-time officer focused on homelessness has made all the difference.
“It took this grant to be successful, which we have been,” Hill said. “It is important to have someone focus on the homeless because it’s a lot of work. It’s time consuming and you end up caring about the people you are working with, which is important.”
Since 2016, Hill has become a familiar face amidst the transient population in Brea and surrounding North Orange County cities. Her workdays often consist of checking in on everyone in the homeless community, which is a lot of regulars she sees every day. This means she’s offering counseling, checking on those she helped months before, calling to find available beds at local shelters and providing advice to those looking for work, who need a place to live, or who may need someone to talk to.
“I take the little wins,” said Hill. “Every week we get people into shelters. We do not just leave them, which is one of the reasons why we are successful. We follow up with everyone. We get their feedback, and we show them we are here for them.”
Acting Chief of Police Adam Hawley said the City of Brea has had the good fortune to have Officer Hill overseeing their most vulnerable community. With her retirement, he is aware her presence and role can’t be replaced, it can only be assigned.
“We had never done something like this at a dedicated level until we got this grant money from the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force,” said Acting Chief Adam Haley. “It is rare when you find someone that just falls into a spot that they were perfectly prepared to do … Teri’s talent and nature aligned perfectly with what she had to do as a Homeless Liaison Officer. “
“Her reputation preceded her. Regionally, not just here in Brea. A lot of people knew of her and of her tenacity and dedication.”
Claudia Hamano, a volunteer with the Brea Police Department task force, has been working with Hill since she started her new role. For Hamano, who will retire alongside Hill, the experience has left an imprint on how she perceives homelessness and the role of law enforcement.
“It has been a gift to work with her,” Hamano said. “She has made a concerted effort to get involved in the community and with the homeless. They all know her, and they know she is there for them. And they also know when she says ‘stay in touch with me’ she means it. And they do.”
Officer Hill’s last day was Thursday, November 12th, and Officer Lamar Tinnin will move into the role of Brea Homeless Liaison officer.
It was a difficult choice for Officer Hill to retire, but she felt it was time to switch gears after 26 years in law enforcement. Her hope is to find a new role, with her expertise and knowledge from the Brea PD, to continue her work with the homeless population.
Her greatest surprise in her work with the homeless has been realizing how little she knew about them before taking the position at Brea Police Department.
Now, she looks at the homeless with new eyes and hopes she can continue to be a champion for them.
“I care and they knew I did,” Officer Hill said. “I would always tell the ones who let me help them … I want you to be my success story.”