Brea Police Officer LaMarr Tinnin recalls the experience of finding a woman and her young daughter seeking shelter in the parking lot of a shopping center at 1 a.m.
It was rainy and cold, and all he could think when he saw them was, “What are they doing here?”
What he learned was they had been homeless for the past three days, and they were now sitting by a trash bin, where a homeless man was trying to talk to them.
He had to help, and he figured as a police officer, he would know how.
“It was cold, and it was raining and she’s out here with her daughter and I just started making phone calls trying to find somewhere for them go,” Officer Tinnin said. “I spent two-and-a-half hours looking for somewhere to take them and no one could or would. I talked to nine people, but no one could help me.”
The phone call revealed to him the cracks in a police officer’s ability to properly help the homeless. While he was able to usher them into his car for safety, he didn’t know how to navigate the system, or find the emergency places that could help them in the middle of the night.
While the story ends happily, once Officer Tinnin (with help from a Sergeant), was able to get this woman and her daughter a plane ticket back to Alaska where her family lived. He knew not all stories end the same way.
He also knew not all homeless individuals had advocates to get them the help they need.
Today, Officer Tinnin, is a bit older, a bit wiser and now has the right training to help people get off the streets and into the right social service programs they need.
In November 2020, Officer Tinnin took on the position of Brea Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Officer, replacing Teri Hill who had held the position since it was first created in 2017 thanks to funding from the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force, a group formed in 2017 by the State Legislature Assembly Bill 97 (Ting, 2017).
The goal was to join forces with cities, law enforcement and community-based organizations to address youth violence prevention & intervention, promote successful re-entry of offenders into the community and address homeless outreach.
In 2018, the Task Force held a one-of-kind Homeless Census, in order to understand the situation of those experiencing street homelessness in the region. Soon thereafter, the Task Force recognized a need for technology to scale the issue with automation and delegation. It led to Outreach Grid, a software company that produced an app which allows non-profit partners and law enforcement to access shelters, social services and more with a tap of their phones-all on one platform through a coordinated entry system.
Connecting individuals experiencing homelessness to emergency, bridge, interim and permanent supportive housing have been made to stabilize and reconnect individuals to a supportive community.
When Hill retired from her position, Officer Tinnin, leapt at the chance to become an advocate for a community who needed the right champion.
“There were different jobs I could have tried to get,” said Officer Tinnin, who worked for Brea PD from 2007 to 2012 and then returned back to the Department in 2019. “But it feels good inside when I get to help someone (on the streets.) Watching them get to where they need to go … just makes me feel so good.”
Brea’s HLO position allows the partnership between Officer Tinnin and case worker Reeny Bulgara from City Net, a homeless outreach service organization.
Together the two patrol the streets of Brea, doubling their efforts and merging law enforcement with homeless outreach services.
“What I learned that night on the phone trying to get that women and her daughter help is that I was getting bounced around, because I didn’t know what to ask for … now with my training as an HLO and my partnership with City Net and the funding we get from the North Orange County Task Force, we can bridge the gaps of knowledge and help more people,” said Officer Tinnin.
Burgula heads out with Officer Tinnin twice a week, checking in on clients they have established relationships with, while also following up on others who have started new programs and may need the extra push to keep it going.
Burgula started her position at Brea Police Department in November, training alongside Officer Tinnin, and becoming visible advocates for the homeless community in Brea and surrounding regions.
“We’ve been able to establish our own way of working together, which has been a great experience and we keep learning together,” she said. “Officer Tinnin is very hands on. Super patient and very helpful. When we go out on patrol, he wants to get the action going, do outreach and get things done. He understands about the law and legal issues and I know more about the options and opportunities that are available – together it’s a super effective partnership.”