After five years of pushing nearly everything he owned in a shopping cart by day and sleeping against a vacant restaurant at night, Jerry Woodbury wanted to go home.
Home was with his mother in Oregon, and two Westminster employees — a cop and a housing analyst — would help him get there thanks to a new program.
The Homeless Prevention Rapid Rehousing Program started in 2014 as a partnership with the city, police department and several nonprofits focused on getting local homeless the help they need.
Westminster PD also has a program that runs concurrently to this effort called Project HOPE (Homeless Outreach Positive Engagement) that started two years ago as a partnership with the county that offers some similar services.
The goal of both programs: proactive solutions for the city’s homeless.
The HPRP includes relocation services, permanent housing placement and financial aid for those at-risk of becoming homeless.
So far, five homeless have been reunited with family members and another three have been placed in permanent housing as part of HPRP.
“It’s just really finding the resources that are out there,” said Westminster housing analyst Mika Takayasu. “We offer help to every person we meet out there. We tell them, ‘You don’t have to live on the street.’”
Takayasu said they know the program works because it’s how she and Westminster PD Officer Dave Ferronato met Woodbury and he became one of their success stories.
In October, the two launched a five-week intensive outreach program to get to know the homeless in Westminster.
Every Wednesday, Takayasu and Ferronato spent six hours visiting local parks and other areas where the homeless typically gather.
“A lot of the people we came across we had repeated contacts with and it gave us a really good opportunity to get to know our chronic homeless on a different level,” Ferronato said.
They determined about 50 people call Westminster streets and parks home, including Woodbury.
Woodbury’s story was a typical tale.
Nearly a decade ago he lost his job, then his apartment. He lived in his truck for awhile until he lost that, too, Takayasu said.
“We see it all the time,” Takayasu said. “It’s very common.”
A machinist and carpenter by trade, Woodbury kept his tools in a storage unit while he lived on the streets.
He spent time in Anaheim and Garden Grove before making his way to Westminster.
When Ferronato and Takayasu met him, they asked if he had family he could reconnect with.
Woodbury mentioned his mother lived in Oregon, but he was unsure if he was welcome home.
He told Ferronato he has some issues with alcohol use.
“How bad his problem was or how strict his mother is, I don’t know,” Ferronato said.
Takayasu and Ferronato told Woodbury about their relocation program, which included paying his travel costs and ensuring he’d have reliable shelter in Oregon.
Two weeks passed before Woodbury delivered a handwritten note to City Hall to take them up on the offer.
“I don’t know if something happened to him or what, but he said he couldn’t stay in the park any longer,” Takayasu said. “We went out and found him that day.”
Ferronato and Takayasu called his mother and she said she would welcome him home to Oregon.
The PD and city arranged bus transportation and a one-night stay at a Westminster motel so Woodbury could shower and get ready for his trip.
When Ferronato and Takayasu went to pick Woodbury up the next day, the homeless man was waiting on the curb with his bags at his feet.
Ferronato and Takayasu handed Woodbury cash to pay for food along the way, took a few photos and said goodbye.
“He had a smile on his face,” Ferronato said. “I think that’s the first time I ever saw him smile.”