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This $4 million initiative will help Pomona police officers, mental health counselors address homelessness

After coming under heavy fire — including a class-action lawsuit — for how its police department handles the homeless, Pomona announced a $4 million initiative to help its unsheltered residents.

Source: The Daily Bulletin

A ride-along with local officers last year opened the eyes of Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Chino, who saw firsthand the challenges sworn personnel face with an ever-growing homeless population, he said.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez announced the initiative that will help Pomona and its police department hire new officers and mental health counselors to work with the homeless population.

Under the Pomona Officers Assisting the Homeless initiative, or Pomona OATH, officers will receive additional training, Rodriguez.

“We often talk about plans and resources to help fix our biggest problems but, sadly, it usually comes down to money,” he said during the press conference Wednesday in front of the Pomona Police Department station. “These funds will help our officers address homeless issues on our city streets, increase public safety, and provide necessary resources to those that need them.”

The news comes as Los Angeles County has granted Pomona $3.4 million in Measure H funds toward the completion of its year-round homeless services center, now under construction.

Through his efforts, Rodriguez was able to secure a line item in the proposed 2018-19 state budget for the funds, which will be spread out over a three-year period.

During that time Pomona will:

  • Provide annual training for officers on interacting with homeless individuals
  • Provide full-time homeless liaison officer positions, dedicated solely to homeless outreach efforts
  • Provide mental health clinician positions to accompany homeless liaison officers during their work in the field, including one position that can provide assistance around the clock
  • Annual reporting requirements and data collection

Despite its financial constraints, Pomona has committed to addressing homelessness. A count of the homeless population in 2017 tallied 877 residents in Pomona without permanent homes, Rodriguez said.

By late August or early September, the city will open its $10 million, year-round Homeless Services Center at a 2.61-acre site in the southeast corner of the city.

Despite the city’s political push, the Police Department earned a reputation of distrust. In 2016, the city agreed to make lockers available to the homeless to resolve a class-action lawsuit which alleged Pomona police officers and city officials regularly confiscated and discarded their belongings — including prescriptions, official identification and in two instances, the ashes of relatives.

Following the suit, Rodriguez went to work finding a way to get all the interested parties together to address homelessness, which is also one of the bigger concerns he’s heard from constituents when he’s in Pomona.

The Pomona Police Department is often the first responders for all things related to homelessness, Chief Michael Olivieri said.

Over the last few years, Pomona has not only experienced an increase in the homeless population but issues related to homelessness, he said. As such, his officers not only have to proactively address the needs of the homeless but balance that with the needs of the communities and the neighbors impacted by homeless activity and related issues.

“We recognize we are most successful when we collaborate between external and internal organizations,” Olivieri said.

Olivieri said the funds will quadruple the department’s current efforts.

Sgt. Anthony Catanese oversees the department’s two teams created in response the homeless issue:

The Homeless Outreach Service Team, also known as HOST, started in 2017 and is funded until 2020, he said.  “At first, the homeless community was taken aback by our presence, but they quickly realized we were there to help them and direct them to the proper resources,” Catanese said.

The Homeless Encampment Action Response team, also known as HEART Team, addresses homeless encampments and is comprised of one police officer and a team of Public Works employees.

Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval credited the collaboration and leadership of regional leaders for helping Pomona make strides in finding solutions. He also thanked state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, for her efforts to keep the Armory open past the winter-only hours.

Sandoval also commended Rodriguez for reaching out to residents, police, and city staff to understand one of Pomona’s most pressing needs – homelessness.