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
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
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