“Are you tired of living this lifestyle yet?”
Cypress Police Officer Eric Mount said he seems to ask this question a lot in his interaction with the city’s homeless.
In many cases, Mount is met with a curt response.
“I hear ‘no’ quite a bit,” Mount said. “How does anyone try and change that when (some homeless) are happy with the way they’re living?”
Although Mount doesn’t have the answer, he has had some successes that tell him the work he’s doing is making a difference.
Mount founded the police department’s homeless outreach program several years ago when he noticed an uptick in the number of transients sleeping on city streets.
“We were getting a lot of calls for service and a lot of complaints,” he said. “It didn’t seem like anyone was doing much.”
Mount started reaching out and building relationships.
“One of the biggest things that I think the general public doesn’t want to accept is that they are human, just like us,” he said. “Some of them were dealt a pretty bad hand in life, so what can we do to make their life better?”
Mount delivers clean clothes to the homeless, including new socks and T-shirts.
He also partners with countywide organizations that provide assistance including housing, treatment and medical care.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn from other people’s mistakes and their successes.”
In his work with the homeless, Mount said he has learned some are alcoholics and others battle psychological problems.
Some are open to interaction with police, while others are combative.
Although Mount sometimes is met with resistance, there are times he finds someone receptive to the outreach.
Someone like John.
John is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been calling Cypress streets home for more than 20 years, Mount said.
“Some days you could carry a conversation with him, some days you couldn’t,” he said. “Some days he wanted to fight with you, some days he was the nicest guy on the face of the Earth.”
On one of his many interactions with Mount, John finally told the officer he was tired of living on the street.
It took nearly nine months, help from Orange County Mental Health and medical treatment before John found a permanent home in Anaheim, Mount said.
“He is the perfect success story,” Mount said. “I’m glad I was able to make a huge difference in that man’s life.”
Mount said John’s story illustrates the importance of a community-wide approach to helping the homeless.
“My personal thought is giving the homeless money or giving them food is a Band-Aid that’s not going to help them in the long run,” Mount said.
“If you are interested in helping, find your local charity and donate… because they are looking at the big-picture solution.”