A new Westminster Police Department civilian employee is helping tackle the complex problem of homelessness with compassion, experience and expertise.
Jessica Martinez, community outreach coordinator, started in May for Westminster after working at City Net, an Anaheim-based organization that helps the homeless.
In her new role, she engages with those who express interest in receiving help, whether it’s for recuperative care, food pantries, hotel vouchers, bus passes or vouchers at the DMV so they can get an ID.
Even though Martinez is opening the door, helping the homeless still remains a challenge, especially in an area where shelter referrals are limited.
“You need to be able to understand that some of them aren’t wanting the help,” she explained. “But you have to continue to offer it every time you come across them.”
Martinez finds people in a variety of ways, sometimes on calls out in the community, in the police department lobby or from citizens who contact her.
“As soon as Jessica started working here at WPD she was able to place three people into shelter within two weeks,” said Officer Roland Perez of the Homeless Liaison Division. “Jessica continues to amaze me with how she is able to find programs that work for certain individuals’ needs. I believe the reason she has been this successful is her dedication to following up with individuals who really want the help.”
Martinez’ career in homeless services had its roots growing up caring for her quadriplegic brother.
“It teaches you to be humble and grateful when you work close to individuals who are less fortunate than you,” she said. “You definitely need to have some sort of empathy.”
As a single mother, Martinez can relate to other women facing those circumstances.
“I would let them know I’m not their boss; it’s always about working together,” she said. “I try to make them feel a part of something, that way they know they are in control of the options they have.”
Martinez, an Anaheim native, started at the Family CareCenter in Orange, doing everything from cleaning restrooms to checking inventory and making lunches. She was able to house five families in about two years there.
“I discovered that not a lot of people who are homeless got that way because of substance abuse,” she said. “It could be because of a spouse passing away or losing a job, things like that. It really got me interested in wanting to do more.”
She later was employed at City Net for three years, where she conducted field work, offered services, and placed people in shelter.
For Westminster, her networking in Orange County’s homeless service community has helped. One of her projects is connecting the police department with databases that keep track of those experiencing homelessness to aid in their recovery.
“I am very grateful for all the opportunities that have been given to me up to this day,” Martinez said. “I want to continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to build connections with agencies and with anyone who’s able to help me to the job.”