On Aug.1, the La Verne City Council approved the distribution of $300,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for the city’s Homeless Outreach Support Team, or HOST, specifically to fund overtime for police officers for the next three years.
The HOST program has been a part of the city for the past five years and is a partnership with the city of La Verne, the La Verne Police Department and Tri-City Mental Health.
HOST focuses on so-called wraparound services to meet the needs of residents in the community without permanent shelters. Wraparound services include housing vouchers, mental health support, substance dependency assistance, medical attention, food and family reunification.
In the past HOST was funded by Measure H, a ¼-cent sales tax revenue stream that focuses on preventing and addressing homelessness, but the money was shared between Pomona, Claremont and La Verne.
“The money from the American Rescue Plan Act is slated specifically for our La Verne community alone and it will directly fund the police officers in our community,” said La Verne Police Lt. Cory Leeper. “The difference now is that we are going to take this money and it is not just for enforcement. Our goal with the homeless is never really enforcement, our goal is compliance.”
According to the city, over 10% of the phone calls to the police department are related to homelessness and it has been creating a strain on their system over the years, which is a reason why HOST was created.
Phone calls to the police department related to homelessness can be very quick, but there are times when they can take a long time.
“Some of these people are severely mentally ill, they don’t trust the police, or they have experienced other law enforcement cultures in Southern California where they have been mistreated,” Leeper said.
When the program was created five years ago the La Verne police officers worked with other homeless outreach teams to identify what type of goals and objectives they needed for police officers on their team.
“One of those needs was mental health training,” Leeper said. There are different names for the classes, crisis intervention techniques, first aid for the mental aid, there are lots of names, but Tri-City Mental Health put on that class for free because we have a partnership with them.”
All La Verne Police Department officers have received mental health training because the goal is to change the culture of the department so that everybody can understand how to deal with vulnerable members of the community, Leeper added.
La Verne has partnered with Tri-City Mental Health for many years and it has been a tremendous help with mental health services, said Tim Hepburn, city of La Verne Mayor.
Tri-City Mental Health has a community navigator stationed in Pomona, Claremont and La Verne that assists anyone with linkage and referrals to any type of service. The navigator also works with HOST to provide help to anyone who is experiencing homelessness. Paulina Ale is the La Verne community navigator, she is based at the Community Center.
“When the HOST team is out outreaching they wear different clothes to build trust and if they encounter someone who needs that extra attention and outreach they will usually contact a community navigator to get them some help,” Isela Moreno, Tri-City Mental Health Services program supervisor, said.
With the construction of the Foothill Gold Line, scheduled to open in 2025, the city council members are concerned about the possibility of more homeless people arriving in La Verne which is why they are preparing ahead.
“It is a method of transportation that the homeless people use to go from community to community,” Hepburn said. “Our police chief is aware and is planning ahead with our ordinance changes, plus our HOST program, hopefully, we can find other funding as this progresses and our train station becomes complete over the next few years.”
The city hopes to transition from American Rescue Plan Act money to other forms of funding in order to have a full-time two-officer team that can address quality-of-life issues that involve homelessness in the future.
“We want to get ahead of that and have resources prepared so that when people come here they understand that we will engage with them to try and get them help,” Yvonne Duran, city of La Verne community services department head, said.
Samira Felix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.