TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Our summer weather creates an extra concern for Tucson Police who work to help reduce problems with the homeless community.
Officers of TPD’s Homeless Outreach Team are trained to view homeless as people to be helped, not a problem to be removed.
Now that monsoon is a regular visitor, that presents an extra challenge for a special Tucson Police unit that deals with homeless issues because homeless often stay in the wash and that creates a safety issue.
Sergeant Jack Julsing says when flood water is a threat police need to move homeless people out of the washes for their own safety but he says wherever a camp may be, they consider how moving it can have a ripple effect.
“If you're just gonna have us move a camp, but we don't have housing for them or a real solution, it goes from your problem to this person's problem to that person's problem as we bounce them around. That destabilizes them, that means, any of the outreach workers that are trying to locate them can't locate them and can't do the follow up to get them in the housing.
And so that's the kind of the vicious cycle we've done or, you know, sometimes we're resorting to arresting them if they've got criminal violations, but then what does that do that just cycles them through the criminal justice system, and kind of delays their success and their ability to get in housing even further.”
Julsing says distancing rules from COVID cut shelter space for homeless people--and made it harder for them to hold jobs or even be found to collect stimulus payments.
He says he has two officers and five civilian police workers trained to work to connect homeless people with housing and other services.
“You have to have a more empathetic soul to talk to them and understand, okay let's calm down and talk about what's going on, here's why I'm here, here's how I can help you. The institutional knowledge that you need to do this job is to know what are the best resources for an individual. Are you homeless because you lost your job, do you have a drug addiction, is it opiates or is it stimulants, Do you have a mental health disorder. Are you a veteran, are you fleeing domestic violence?”
Sergeant Julsing says after working with the homeless every day he knows they are not a threat to the general public. He says his outreach team helps more than the homeless---they free up patrol officers to handle calls to help you.
He says, “I don't want if your vehicle gets stolen, for you to wait a long time. I don't want if you get robbed at gunpoint to wait a long time for a response. I don't want officers that are in the street and working in a patrol capacity to be tied up with those non-emergency homeless issues. Let my unit deal with it. Let us get the proper resource to it because not only is it a better spend our time, but we're going to work to get a long term sustainable solution rather than just putting a bandaid on the problem.”