Police departments from Garden Grove, Westminster and Anaheim — along with a variety of service providers — joined together Saturday in an effort to offer a hand to some of the neediest members of the community.
Citizens who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness could find resources in a variety of areas at the multi-agency homeless outreach event held June 30 in the parking lot of a medical office on Garden Grove Boulevard.
Organized by the Garden Grove Police Department (GGPD), the event featured agencies offering temporary low-cost housing, help for substance abuse and mental illness and resources for veterans.
The DMV also was on hand, providing identification cards and waving the associated fees.
GGPD Officer Brian Hatfield, part of the department’s six-person Special Response Team, was the main organizer, said Lt. Jeff Nightengale, who oversees the team.
“There are a lot of great resources out there,” Nightengale said. “It’s just a matter of hooking them up together and that is what we are doing here.”
At least 35 percent of the department’s calls for service are related in some way to homelessness, the lieutenant said.
A location close to Beach Boulevard was chosen because it is a popular thoroughfare traveled by the homeless.
“It’s an opportunity to give some of these homeless folks a second shot and kind of help them to be part of society,” Garden Grove Police Chief Todd Elgin said. “A lot of times we forget that homeless people are part of the community.”
Homeless people sometimes see the police as adversaries and events like the outreach event can change that perception, Elgin said.
“I think we are trying to break down the stereotype and let them know we are here to help them,” the chief said.
To get the word out about the event, officers passed out flyers to homeless people throughout the area and left information at local motels.
And as the four-even event was taking place, Police Explorers from Anaheim, Westminster and Garden Grove fanned out through the community to find anyone who might need help.
Officer Dave Ferronato, Westminster Police Department’s homeless liaison officer, was providing help along with the Westminster Family Resource Center, Westminster Housing Department and American Family Housing of Midway City.
Spending the time with a homeless person in order to get to the root causes of their situation is the key to helping them, Ferronato said.
“You have to drill down and find out what the problem is,” Ferronato said. “What do we need to do to get them into a better situation than they are in now?”
Thanks to the efforts of Westminster service providers, Lucy Merritts, 69, her 44-year old daughter and 11-year-old granddaughter soon would be in that better situation.
The family had come to California from Cincinnati and had been staying in a motel in Westminster.
Then the motel suddenly jacked up the room rates so high they could no longer afford to stay there.
They wound up on the streets, where they had been for about a month, when WPD Sgt. Bill Drinnin came across them in a park and gave them information about the homeless outreach event.
So Merritt, her daughter and granddaughter spent time with Tami Piscotty of the Westminster Housing Department.
Within an hour, Piscotty had arranged for a free plane ticket for Merritt to fly back to Cincinnati and be with her 99-year-old mother.
“She is just so lonely,” Merritt said. “She is going to be really happy.”
Merritt’s daughter and granddaughter were staying in California and were relocated to temporary housing through American Family Housing.
Merritt couldn’t hold back tears of gratitude, especially for Sgt. Drinnin.
It’s just so unbelievable,” Merritt said. “I’ve got to send him a card to say thank you.”