Upon entering Buena Park’s new homeless shelter, the Navigation Center, everyone is greeted with a wall of positive affirmations.
“You are loved.”
“You aren’t alone”
“We care about you.”
The sayings are standard, but the message is an assurance they found shelter and also help – if they want it.
This includes help from their local law enforcement.
Often the black and white car, with the red and blue flashing lights, can make a person experiencing homelessness feel as if they going to be asked to move along or find a different place to set up camp.
But that’s now how things work anymore.
At Buena Park Police Department, the homeless task force liaisons are likely to be the first contact for those living on the street. They are the ones who can offer advice, a lifeline or a place to sleep, even if just for a night.
Police Officer Lindsay Cruz and Officer Cory Boudreau are the Department’s Homeless Task Force Liaisons, making them specialized officers who focus their efforts on Buena Park’s most vulnerable community.
Their patrols start like most shifts, but instead of looking for crime, they look for ways to offer a helping hand.
Cruz and Boudreau work with schools, meet with the Orange County District Attorney’s office, check in with probation officers and help members of the homeless community connect with the local social service programs that can offer long term assistance.
“Being on the task force is rewarding. It’s a different side of law enforcement that I haven’t seen until now,” said Officer Cruz. “It’s a lot easier to keep people out of jail and off the streets, but they need the help to stay that way … that’s what we try to help them do.”
The new 149-bed Navigation Center, which opened in June, helps with job counseling, mental health resources, mobile clinics, pet clinics and also offers a daily shuttle that takes shelter residents to different parts of North Orange County. This allows them to run errands, go to job interviews, make medical appointments, and try to get the holistic help they need to get off the streets.
“To come to the Navigation Center the clients do need some ties to the Task Force, they can’t just come here, we have to recommend them,” said Officer Boudreau. “Once they are here, there are so many resources available to help.”
Buena Park Police Department’s shift in how they viewed and handled homelessness started a few years ago when the Department became a leader to the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force, a coalition of cities, police agencies, and community-based organization groups addressing youth violence prevention, formerly incarcerated re-entry services and homeless outreach.
Formed in 2017 by AB 97 (Ting, 2017), the four-year pilot program is comprised of the cities and police chiefs of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia, Stanton, and Yorba Linda. Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez is the Chair of the Task Force.
Buena Park PD received funding from the Task Force, which allowed them to hire Cruz and Boudreau to zero in on helping the City’s homeless community.
Together the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force shares resources, ideas and goals for addressing homelessness and other regional public safety issues.
“Once we started working together, we became more proactive than reactive, “Sianez said.
“Partnering with community-based organizations, we realized they could help provide us with solutions we didn’t have access to. We were able to pull our resources together and offer help to address the deeper root that cause people to end up on the streets.”