By Sharon Byrne
Santa Barbara has a pretty cool program – restorative police and court. We’ve borrowed some tenets of the model from Santa Monica, and adapted them for our jurisdiction.
The term ‘homeless’ probably evoked an image of the crew hanging on State and Haley every day, but the true spectrum is broader. I borrowed these definitions from the article Million Dollar Murray, by Malcolm Gladwell – superb reading for understanding this issue, and why many solutions we’ve tried haven’t worked.
Transitional homeless make up about 80% of the homeless population, and use the fewest resources. They need a job, or a roof, just a little help, and they’re back on their feet. You’ve most likely never encountered any transitional homeless individuals, unless you were personally connected to them.
Chronically homeless have been our streets the longest – years. They may have been homeless in other jurisdictions before coming here. This group, according to Gladwell, makes up about 10% of the total homeless population, but consume enormous health and social care resources. Think of the chronic drunk down on the sidewalk, passed out. The police come, the fire dept comes (first responders for medical emergencies) and then the ambulance comes. Or maybe he gets arrested and booked into the jail. He’s out the next day, and back to it. Wash, rinse, repeat, multiply, and it’s easy to see why this group is so costly, and why it creates the biggest set of problems for a city.
Nobody can ever seem to help them, the addicted and mentally ill who refuse to leave the street. They have fallen out of every program, been kicked out of every shelter….and thus become the domain of the restorative police.
The restorative police force consists of two police officers (both Europeans, incidentally), one fantastic volunteer, three outreach workers, and six community service liaisons. The model is still evolving, but basically they use the power of the badge, and the pressure of the court to apply some stick and a bit of carrot to the most chronically homeless individuals on our streets.
Officer Hove was our lone restorative police officer until recently. Several business organizations lobbied for additional police officers last year, given the effectiveness of what we’d seen in Santa Monica, and the city put together this program.
The two restorative officers work this most difficult client base. They ferry clients between appointments as far away as Los Angeles, find them housing, and work to get them off the street. Sometimes being here is not good for them, or a treatment or program they need isn’t here, so there are also some relocations. Three outreach workers extend the officer’s social work capabilities, and six community service liaisons act as the eyes and ears of the police on State, the beachfront, and Milpas St – where the chronic homeless have historically been most prevalent.
Restorative Court meets every Wednesday from 10:00-noon. It consists of the restorative officers, the public defender’s office, and representatives from: the ACLU, Bringing Our Community Home, the Salvation Army (the ‘Sally’), and now Casa Esperanza. Sometimes the police need an immediate place for a client who is finally willing to come in off the street. The Sally has been providing some of that immediate shelter, and because their program requires sobriety and structure, it’s can be a very good fit.
The court works with clients who’ve received multiple tickets for various (and usually repeat) offenses, and offers to make those tickets go away in exchange for entering a program, relocating to be with supportive family, or entering housing. This is the stick, and the carrot.
The court has successfully handled 107 cases in the last year for some of the longest-term chronically homeless in our city. The homeless count in 2011 found 1,500 homeless here, and we know from Gladwell’s article that 10% of the homeless are that expensive chronic group, the clientele the restorative team works with. These results, then, are pretty impressive. The restorative police estimate they’ve helped place an additional 50 individuals without needing to put them through the court. The budget is $350,000 annually for the restorative policing program, a pittance in the city budget, though that funding is at risk. The Sally has a very modest budget as well, proving cost effective solutions are very attainable, even with the subset of homeless that traditionally consumes the most expensive public safety and emergency healthcare resources.
There’s always concern that someone might leave a program and resume their life on the street here. They might fall out of sobriety, or re-offend. These are the hardest cases, so recidivism is to be expected, depressing as that may be. But it doesn’t stop this team from pressing forward. It’s also why the model is continually evolving: as the police and court learn which solutions and programs (some of the needed programs are in other cities) are the most effective for their different cases, they shift their strategies accordingly.
They’re happy to thoroughly educate you on what they do, so if you’d like to have them come to your community meeting or business group, just schedule it with them. Email Mureen Brown Mureen Brown (their fantastic volunteer) at email@example.com.