Orange County’s homeless population has been exploding.
In 2015, the Garden Grove Police Department responded to 40 percent more calls involving homeless individuals than the previous year.
From volunteering with homeless outreach groups at his church, Garden Grove Police Department Officer Brian Hatfield had a plan.
He made connections with a variety of resource providers and spearheaded an effort to form what is now the agency’s Special Resources Team (SRT), a unit of five specially trained officers tasked with forming relationships with the homeless community and connecting them with resources.
Since the SRT officially sprang into action in May 2016, the city has seen a drastic reduction in homelessness in several key problem areas in town, Hatfield said.
“We are able to relocate and to hook these people up with resources,” he said.
The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The SRT unit recently received a Golden Hub of Innovation Award, a recognition given by the Association of California Cities, Orange County (ACC-OC).
Golden Hub awards are presented annually in a variety of categories for public-sector initiatives that have improved productivity and efficiency.
Garden Grove PD’s SRT received the Golden Hub in the Public Safety category.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless Liaison Program in Lake Forrest also received a Golden Hub award for Public Safety.
“It’s wonderful to see that the award was presented for something in the law enforcement field that has not been discussed and to bring it to light,” Hatfield said.
More than 150 were in attendance for the awards ceremony, held May 12 at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach.
“(The awards) represent the concerted efforts of teams of dedicated professionals who are improving their municipalities with transformational ideas that can become best practices for cities nationwide,” said Heather Stratman, ACC-OC chief executive officer.
After working with the church group, Hatfield came to realize enforcement alone wouldn’t solve the problem.
Even before the SRT unit officially was formed, Hatfield had begun building a resource database because he understood enforcement isn’t always the answer in these situations.
The SRT partnered with other agencies and resource providers, holding outreach drives and, in many cases, bringing the resources to locations with high homeless populations, such as flood-control channels.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of making the homeless population aware of available resources, he said.
In one outreach effort at a flood control channel at Knott Street and Garden Grove Boulevard, the SRT unit connected one veteran with a veterans group in Long Beach, got two women into shelters, and got one man into a drug treatment center.
At an outreach event near Beach Boulevard last July, close to 70 people received services, including four who were immediately placed in temporary housing, 13 who applied for ID cards through the DMV, and two who were referred to drug treatment facilities.
“We’re beginning to see the fruits of our labor,” Hatfield said.
Realizing that there only is so much a single police agency can do to make an impact, Hatfield said his goal is to continue the push to regionalize efforts among other departments.
Said Stratman: “These awards are about more than any one project. They represent the concerted efforts of teams of dedicated professionals who are improving their municipalities with transformational ideas that can become best practices for cities nationwide.”