Fullerton’s new approach to helping homeless paying off


The items may seem small: A pair of sweats. A voucher to stay overnight at a motel. Socks.

Raul, pictured with Avena and DeCaprio, is a veteran who was reunited with family in Florida, thanks to the Coast to Coast and FPD partnership. He’s working in hospitality. (photo courtesy Coast to Coast)

But the impact is huge for a homeless person – especially one stranded in a rainstorm at 3 a.m.

“I appreciate what police officers do,” said Marie Avena, founder of Coast to Coast Foundation. “I feel badly that they have to take care of the stuff we don’t want to take care of in society.”

So the Yorba Linda realtor did something about it.

About two years ago, she created “Homeless Liaison Kits,” and loaded lockers at the police department with bus vouchers, clothing and restaurant gift cards so police officers have access to whatever they need to serve the homeless – whenever they need it. She lined up dozens of volunteers who are available every day for a police “hand off” if somebody wants help.

Perhaps most important, her partnership with the Fullerton and Anaheim Police Department is changing the way law enforcement in Orange County deal with homeless people. Already, Anaheim has set up a similar program and other agencies are inquiring.

“I was lucky if I had two minutes to try to help somebody,” said John “JD” DeCaprio, FPD’s Homeless Liaison Officer.

DeCaprio is busier than ever. Thanks to Avena and Coast to Coast, he no longer races from call to call without being able to provide somebody who wants to get off the streets with hope – and even if they don’t, he can offer those who’ve lost everything a hot meal.

Part of the reason DeCaprio is so busy:  he’s spending more time understanding why they are on the street and more time coordinating help.

Coast to Coast’s volunteers do everything from help get an identification card – an important first step toward finding a job – to contacting family members and arranging for a bus or plane ticket home.

To date, Avena and DeCaprio estimate they’ve reunited dozens of homeless people with relatives from all over the country– and that step has led many to stay off the streets.


FPD and Coast to Coast recently reunited Melvin with family in North Carolina (photo courtesy Coast to Coast)

Coast to Coast is a nonprofit, and funding for the motel vouchers and bus tickets come from private donations. DeCaprio and Avena encourage those wanting to help – financially or as a volunteer – to contact them through Coast to Coast’s website, http://www.coasttocoastfoundation.org/.

Trying to serve the homeless is a better way than simply making arrests, DeCaprio says.

“My position as an Homeless Liaison Officer is that you can’t enforce your way out of the problem,” he said. “It comes down to being out here every day and developing rapport with the clients, and having the resources you need when the opportunity to help presents itself.”

The police department invites you to join them at Pieology in Fullerton for a fund-raiser for Coast to Coast. Fifteen percent of all proceeds will go to the foundation.

 Contact Bill at BRams@behindthebadgeoc.com.