Westminster PD officers visited local businesses in late August as part of a larger strategy to help address homelessness in the city.
Armed with educational fliers, the team of six officers — including Roland Perez — walked through shopping centers in both the east and west sides of the city, talking to employees, managers and owners at the various retail locations. Falling under the larger city initiative known as Project W, which launched this year to include improvement projects and various forms of economic development, this outreach to businesses had the primary goal of education.
“We’re going around to all the businesses regarding [the]homeless,” Perez said to someone behind the counter at a Vietnamese flower shop when handing over the flier.
At another shop, another officer spoke to a woman at the store in Vietnamese while handing over a flier.
“If you have an issue, give us a call,” Perez said when stopping into a nearby restaurant.
The fliers were translated into Vietnamese and Spanish as well to expand the reach of the WPD’s efforts. Three of the officers visiting the businesses during the Aug. 22 day-long outreach effort spoke Vietnamese and one spoke Spanish. Plus, Perez knows sign language.
“It looks like [they]probably hit close to over 100,” said WPD Commander Darin Upstill of the outreach activity.
The fliers included information on how business and property owners could take a proactive approach to homelessness with some do’s and don’ts such as avoiding verbal or physical confrontation, restricting access to sidewalk overhangs or areas protected from weather conditions like rain, keeping trash dumpsters locked, installing motion-activated exterior lights as well as surveillance cameras, and securing outside storage sheds or containers. Another big tip on the list is to avoid offering money or food, because they can encourage panhandling.
Sgt. Dave Ferronato said this is an important one because the word can easily spread in the homeless community about a location that gives out free food.
“Next thing you know, you got some fairly aggressive homeless people showing up on a regular basis demanding food,” he said.
He said they certainly do not want to discourage people’s generosity, but there is a more systematic approach to help.
“We just want to make sure it’s done the right way,” he said. “Direct them to shelters, direct them to programs where they can go eat.”
It’s the kind of work Perez, as homeless liaison officer, does regularly during his patrol work. The agency and Perez also work closely with representatives from City Net, which works to help connect members of the homeless population with resources and programs to help get them off the streets.
“The charity’s nice and it’s always needed, but it’s also very important that it gets focused where it should get focused,” said Ferronato.
Upstill said this kind of outreach and information is important because local business and property owners don’t always know what to do when it comes to homelessness occurring on their property.
He said the information “gives them some groundwork on what to do.”
Many of the business owners, managers and employees seemed grateful for the visit by the WPD officers.
“Thank you sir,” said one woman at a hair and nail salon when asking for and receiving a second flier.