On a wintery, rainy afternoon two days before Christmas, Westminster police officers partnered with local churches to provide a hot meal and warm clothing to individuals surviving on the streets.
They were found seeking cover in strip malls or living in tents in parking lots of abandoned businesses and within the tall shrubbery at freeway exits and interchanges.
As Homeless Liaison Officer Nicole Brown puts it, the officers were out there to offer “that little kernel of care that goes a long way.”
“You’re never going to win the battle, but if you get one person off the street, or even if you provide a hot meal for someone,” Brown said. “That is what I like to hold on to. It’s better than just saying there is no hope or nothing is going to happen. That doesn’t help the situation.”
The outreach team on this day included Brown, Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez, Commander Kevin MacCormick, and Pastors Pablo Pena of Hope Community Church and Paul Park of Free Life Community Church.
The team represents a group of churches and community groups that work with Westminster Police Department as part of a collaborative known as Love Westminster.
Their model is simple. Police officers are often aware of specific needs of the homeless and can reach out to the coalition to help fill those needs. At the same time, the churches keep the police informed on their outreach efforts so that officers can share the information with the homeless members of the community.
One church, for example, hosts a laundry day and provides quarters so that chronically homeless individuals can wash their clothes.
By accompanying the homeless liaison officers on their beat, pastors can see homelessness firsthand.
“As local pastors and faith-based organizations, just having a different perspective on homelessness on the street level and coming down with the police department to see through the eyes that the police department sees, it adds a different layer,” Pena said. “But also a compassionate level on our end to see how we can meet some of these needs that we see on the street level. I think that one-two punch is really essential in providing help.”
The churches provided hygiene kits which were handed out during the outreach and secured 25 hot meals from Bracken’s Kitchen, a nonprofit based in Garden Grove whose sole mission is serving food to individuals and families in need.
Helping the homeless presents several persistent challenges, Perez said. Many are addicted to drugs or have mental health issues and often don’t want help, the officer said.
Forming a collective among faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and the police department is a strategy all cities should model, he said.
“We’ll reach out to them 400 times and they’ll tell us, ‘no,’ and the one time they say, ‘yes,’ that is when we try to capitalize on that,” Perez said.
Outreach efforts such as the one performed on this day are a great way to build trust between the homeless and the police officers, MacCormick said.
“We are bringing them a meal,” the commander said. “We are bringing them some clothes and some dry socks. It shows that we… are out here to help. We want to help them. Our primary goal is to help. It is the right thing to do. At the end of the day, they are human beings, just like you and me.”