Sitting on a curb in front of a home in a Westminster neighborhood, a disheveled, disoriented homeless woman is being tended to by Westminster Police Department Homeless Liaison Officers Nicole Brown and Roland Perez.
The officers, with assistance from a social worker, spend nearly two hours helping the mentally ill woman.
They contacted shelters and other nonprofit organizations, hoping to get the woman into a warm bed along with needed services.
After discerning that the woman made her way up from San Diego, Brown made the 90-mile trip to that city to get the woman safely into a shelter.
The desire to help such disenfranchised individuals and make positive changes in their lives is the reason Brown pursued a career as a police officer.
“When you help people in law enforcement, you are actually the first person on the scene to actually do something about it and make a change,” Brown said.
Brown has been on the job in Westminster for about a year and a homeless liaison officer (HLO) for about two months.
“I just don’t think that anyone is hopeless,” said the 31-year-old Brown, who has volunteered to feed the homeless and serve the less fortunate in other ways for years before becoming a police officer. “This is not the prettiest job, dealing with the homeless. You might get someone off the streets and they might go back to the streets and it’s that cycle. But to actually be able to make an impact on someone’s life for the better is why I wanted this position.”
Several years ago, Brown had been coaching a girls’ soccer team when she met another coach who was a police officer.
“He convinced me to apply for a police department job,” Brown said.
She attended the police academy at Rio Hondo College in Whittier and then applied to be an officer at Westminster Police Department.
Brown pursued the homeless liaison position after doing ride-alongs with Perez, who was the department’s only homeless liaison officer until Brown joined him.
“I like having her around as a partner,” Perez said. “She has compassion. She is all about notes. Everything is organized. She keeps me focused.”
On some days, Brown is joined by Jackie Tapia from City Net, an organization that connects homeless individuals with a variety of services, one of the most important being shelter.
Tapia is a lead case manager for City Net’s Homeless Emergency Assistance Program (HEAP).
On days Brown is not partnering with Tapia, Brown makes connections with homeless individuals who need and may want help getting off the streets.
“She is doing what she loves to do, which is reach out to the homeless community,” Tapia said.
Tapia’s job is made easier because Brown already knows where to find individuals who want help.
“She is incredibly compassionate, incredibly patient,” Tapia said. “She’s incredibly respectful about our job and what role we play with our homeless community. It’s a really good working relationship. If someone needs supportive services, then she lets me come in and provide that… It’s mutual and it works perfectly.”
Being a homeless liaison officer, Brown comes across the most marginalized members of the community.
There are obvious challenges.
“I think the hardest part about this position as HLO is (meeting) the people that you know really need help and they want help but you don’t have a bed available or the resources aren’t there right now,” she said. “That is a little frustrating.”
But her job isn’t about doom and gloom.
There is a flip side.
“You get a lot of community relations too from it,” Brown said. “You talk to a lot of business owners and residents, so you get to see a lot of the good. Instead of just arresting people who have committed a crime, you are actually getting to see people who want to help or want to make a difference.”