Hatfield: Homeless Outreach Starts With Ourselves

City of Garden Grove website

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An honors graduate from high school and college, Marine Corps Veteran, married with two beautiful daughters, dog, house and cars…this is a picture painted by many, and was my life. Starting in November of 2013, I spent the next fourteen months surviving a test beyond imagination.

The world of homelessness is not all that far from any of us. The loss of a job, death of a child or loved one, severe physical or mental disability, abandonment or personal tragedy can cause any person to find themselves in turmoil beyond belief. It takes years of determination and drive to build a comfortable life, but in mere moments that life can become a distant memory.

Due to some unfortunate circumstances, my marriage came to an end. The house, dog and cars were all gone. My financial future was completely destabilized, and I found myself focused on my daughters while trying to figure out how it all went wrong. Ten months later, I was riding a bicycle home from work and was hit by two separate vehicles.

Now, I’ve been through difficult times in my life. I made it through the first stages of Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. I’ve lost family members and had plenty of financial difficulties in the past, like most. I spent weeks thinking about what I had done, what I could have done differently, and why this was all happening. I felt like I was at the end of my rope and didn’t know where to turn. Where do we all turn when we’re looking for information? Google!

While severely injured and recovering at home, I searched for local churches and thought to myself…there’s nowhere else to turn at this point. In my wheelchair and covered in road rash, I rolled into the Sunday morning service and sat in the back corner. I listened to the sermon, which fittingly was about caring for others. At the time, I didn’t realize what this message was starting.

In the following weeks, I managed to begin walking with a cane. I continued attending services and learned of a volunteer program to assist the homeless.

Now, I need to take a moment and explain why this was a major change for me.

I am a police officer.

My career charges me with protecting and serving the community. For years, I spent countless hours investigating crimes and arresting the suspects. Many of these crimes consisted of petty thefts, public intoxication, drug use, open alcoholic containers, camping ordinances and many others. In simple terms, public nuisance related crimes that are commonly associated with the homeless population.

When I arrived to the volunteer location, I felt a certain amount of anxiety. While at work, safety and tactics are of the upmost importance. Proper distances, positioning, verbal communication skills to gain voluntary compliance, force options, surroundings and expecting the unexpected is an everyday practice. This volunteer program provided an opportunity to step out of this role and do something I had very little experience with. I felt myself slowly developing compassion, caring, understanding and human kindness during difficult life moments.

Although I was only asked to attend one Saturday morning, I felt something developing over the next four months of volunteering. I learned two important things about the people I was now serving: 1) Human kindness and compassion is one of the strongest tools we possess, 2) my professional duties NEED to have a balance.

This experience led me to pursue the first, Garden Grove Police Department Homeless Outreach Event. The idea was to bring the outreach organizations to the street where

to

the homeless live. The event was later followed by a multi-agency outreach program bordering four intersecting Orange County cities.

As I look back on that Sunday sermon, I often reflect on my thoughts from that morning. I sat in the back corner in a wheelchair, wondering how it all went wrong. Wondering if I would ever recover physically or emotionally. Feeling a pain from the inside out, that didn’t seem to have an end. I understand the pain that a person can feel, pain that can bring feelings of failure. I will use that understanding with each encounter, both professionally and personally, for the rest of my life.

Master Officer Brian Hatfield, Garden Grove Police Department Special Resource Team

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices.  If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

  • Juan Trippe Aviation Pioneer a

    Officer Hatfield, thank you ever so much for going above and beyond the call of duty! Frankly, I find it frustrating that it takes so much effort to pull county staff away from their desks. Clinicians should be engaging their under served clients daily, holds should be written, Hospitalizations should be happening. In this country we send law enforcement to engage individuals with a severe and persistent mental illness. In the UK clinicians are sent, with far better outcomes. Finally, could you remind the Outreach and Engagement staff that OCTA Buss’s are not transitional housing!

  • verifiedsane

    Considering the “population without stick housing” is growing, and the problem is escalating…The question I would like answered beyond these feel good PR measure stories; is do these organized outreach events actually have a substantive effect upon addressing this county wide problem?

    As nice is this story may appear in all its good intentions; doesn’t this amount to little more than window dressing government agencies dressing up a perceived ugly animal in emperors clothing, and then calling it a reasonable solution?

    Maybe the OC County homeless Czar “who appears to be missing in action” could answer these simple questions for us?

  • Thellis Pittman

    Thank you officer Hatfield for sharing your story. I am proud of our police department and all you do.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Officer Hatfield – I thank you for sharing your personal story of empathy for the homeless but with all due respect…Sir law enforcement is the WRONG agency to deal with this societal problem.

    Being homeless should not be a crime.

    Therefore, Police do not need to be holding Resource Fairs.

    • kburgoyne

      Sounds like a kind of rough equivalent to offering rehab instead of jail time to drug users. Or perhaps more like cops going to schools in order to try and help kids see them as friends instead of adversaries, and to promote not getting involved in drugs.

      • OCservant_Leader

        The Drug War was a bust if you haven’t heard. Insiders pockeded Billions at the expense of addicts. Criminalizing a mental illness – just actually causes more societal problems – like we are seeing here.

        But it seems like Law Emforcement’s budgets continue to grow even tho crime is down?

        • LFOldTimer

          Excellent points, OCservant.

          The “Just Say No” cop programs in the schools were a proven bust. Drug usage of adolscent and pre-adolescent teens grew exponentially despite all the money we spent on cops getting paid to be social workers in the schools. And that is a proven fact.

  • LFOldTimer

    Why is the City of GG paying cops six figure compensations to be social workers? People go to college for six years to get the training to qualify them to do those jobs. Cops should be cops. Now they’re taking jobs from social workers? If I had a MSW degree I’d protest. I thought the City of GG complained that they didn’t have enough police officers.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Old Timer – You are spot on regarding this issue. Not only can we NOT afford to have LE deal with this problem, they do not have the skills or education..period.

    • kburgoyne

      From the referenced web site: “There were 17 different partner organizations that participated to provide various types of assistance to the homeless such as housing, veteran assistance, and substance abuse treatment.” Sounds to me like a group of cops did an excellent job of simply being leaders to “rally the troops”.

      What isn’t entirely clear is whether the cops did this on or off duty (on or off the pay clock). If you can provide a legitimate reference to them doing this on the pay clock, that would be useful. However I’m not entirely sure it would actually discredit their efforts to help the community.

      Makes one wonder why anybody tries to help out in any fashion if all they’re going to get in response is a negative attack.

      • LFOldTimer

        I know for a fact that some police departments pay cops to be full time homeless coordinators. OCSD has such positions. You can easily research this on-line for yourself.

        We pay police officers in OC on average about $230,000 in compensation. Most departments complain they don’t have enough officers to adequately enforce the laws. Then why are they assigning them to social worker jobs?

        People who go into student debt of $100,000 or more to get MSW degrees are specifically trained to deal with the underclass populations – like the homeless. Why would you want a cop doing the job of a real social worker? That isn’t fair to those who spend a considerable amount of time and their OWN money to train to work in the field.

        The homeless inherently distrust the police. That’s not going to change since the police are there to enforce the laws and throw people in jail. Look at the ways the homeless have been treated by the cops in Anaheim. They confiscate their belongings, cite and arrest them.

        The homeless need to have advocates from the government whom they can trust and truly believe have their best interests at heart.

        My points make perfect sense. If you oppose legitimate criticisms of how the system operates that’s your problem – not mine.

        • verifiedsane

          Though I agree upon your basic premise of the police not being paid or acting as social workers. I would hope that every law enforcement officer would have a good understanding and some compassion for the homeless populations ominous plight, and their high propensity to be victims of crime…

          I personally do not believe it takes a masters degree to differentiate between those who want & need a hand up, and those others who just have their hands out…At least that might be a good jumping off point to consider..

          • LFOldTimer

            In general the cop culture views the homeless as common vagrants and pests.

            Case in point: Look at what the Fullerton cops did to Kelly Thomas.

            People go to college to train to excel in specialized areas for their chosen careers. MSW’s and other social scientists train to interact with people, mostly people who have problems. It’s their life profession. They spend tens of thousands of dollars for their educations. If I was looking for compassion a cop would be the last person I would go to.

            How would cops like it if MSW’s started doing their jobs?

            When I go to the grocery store and have a question about a certain cut of beef – I don’t go to the bakery and ask the guy who makes the bread. I go to the meat department to ask the experts.

          • verifiedsane

            Unfortunately, homeless human beings are neither a cut of beef or a loaf of bread…there is a place for social workers to fit into the equation, but let’s face reality. The high cost and living reality have to be taken into consideration. Having volunteered to do outreach with the without a stick house population, I have gone into back areas in the dark of night where social workers would seldom risk going…I will tell you this much, there are just not that many professionals that understand the complexity, or specialize in the without stick house population.

            I do believe you understand that the without a stick house population runs the whole gambit of the human condition. The solutions (if there is any solution) needs a board and comprehensive approach to be taken; from layman, to churches, to professionals, and even some limited governmental intervention. At present we are looking at a problem from the confines of the same old limited and failing box. I have to believe we as a society can do better, and be more creative when looking & dealing with this problem that is not going away anytime in the near future.

          • OCservant_Leader

            Yea but; Law Enforcement’s job description is Law –Enforcement.

            No role here.

            We need to divert the homeless, mentally ill, addicts and disabled from law enforcement’s focus.

            Or is there a political-reason to hire more LE with our tax dollars (we can’t afford) rather than social workers and health care?

          • LFOldTimer

            But LE realizes there’s money to be made and more positions to be filled if they start working as social workers too.

            The internal goal of police administrators is to build bigger kingdoms for themselves so they can demand bigger budgets.

            What better way to do that than to have their cops work as social workers?

            Then they complain they don’t have enough cops to patrol the streets! ha.

            Cops should be used to enforce the laws. Social workers should be used to be advocates for the underclass. That’s the way it’s always worked. Now they want to change the paradigm.

            FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!!

          • OCservant_Leader

            “Follow the money” is right! Law Enforcement in OC controls the BOS and vice versa. Their budgets continue to grow even though the crime rate is down?

            They continued to ratchet up their salaries and pensions (which are unsustainable). They have changed their mission from LE to harrassing and killing innocent citizens. What the h*ll are they doing?

            In OC the whole system is corrupted from Sheriff’s snitch tank to DA cheating. And with all that money they still couldn’t keep murderers from propelling down the jail wall to join their buddies at the civic center?

            How can we continue to feed this monster?

            Pretty soon government will have only one budget item – Law Enforcement!

            We have become a Police State. The citizens are the last to know.

          • Juan Trippe Aviation Pioneer a

            Yes, Social workers do not work after 5:00 PM, or on the weekends. All O and E happens between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, only. Funny, but Mental Health crisis happens 24 hours a day