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Police employees reach out to Claremont's homeless

A group of Claremont Police Department employees drove around town on the morning of August 23 looking for signs of the city’s homeless population.

But this wasn’t an enforcement situation—far from it. Members of the Claremont Police Officers’ Association (CPOA)—including several officers and a jailer—were there to distribute aid kits and offer services to Claremonters who need it the most.

The inaugural event was inspired by efforts that cities and other agencies have done throughout LA County on the heels of Measure H, according to Nick Martinez of the CPOA.

But this wasn’t a city event, nor was it put on by the Claremont Police Department—the CPOA planned and got together on their day off to do the outreach. There was to be no enforcement of laws during the trip.

“All we do is provide resources to the homeless,” Mr. Martinez said.

The officers rode in a dark Chevy Tahoe, which contained a couple-dozen care packages neatly bundled in Ziploc bags. Each package contained necessities for someone to get through the day—socks, a bottle of water, a granola bar, shampoo, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

A flyer distributed to the homeless included contact information for a number of local resources, including 2-1-1 LA County, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Volunteers of America, Homeless Veterans Hotline and the Salvation Army.

Once the group found a person who appeared be homeless, they pulled over nearby, and groups of two or three grab care packages and approach. They are keenly aware of how several approaching officers could seem intimidating to a homeless person.

“We don’t want to scare them, that’s why there are only two or three of us at a time,” Jeff Ting said.

The first person contacted was a man sleeping at a bus stop bench near the intersection of Indian Hill Boulevard and Oak Park Drive. Next to him was a shopping cart full of his belongings.

He told the officers he was a 51-year resident of Claremont, having lived on the streets for 20 of those years. He accepted the care package, and the officers were on their way.

The second person contacted was at the First Street bus stop in between Harvard and Yale. The 37-year-old man had been homeless for two months, and hadn’t contacted any of the services highlighted by the CPOA.

“These people are more than willing to help, and they’ll help you as much as they can,” one CPOA member said as he gave the homeless person a flyer.

Not everyone accepted the care packages. One woman on Harvard Avenue, sitting by herself with a small cart of her belongings, smiled as she politely refused the items.

“I have all of that, so let someone else have it,” she said.

The group split in two when they arrived at College Park, knowing that homeless people were known to set up camp in different areas. It was emptier than anticipated, but one man was found wrapped in a sleeping bag underneath a tree near the Little League field—he was given a care package and a flyer.

In all, the CPOA made contact with 11 homeless people around central and south Claremont—a noticeable uptick from county-led efforts last year.

Mr. Ting couldn’t say how many individuals were contacted last year, but he did note that he felt like it was more.

“Our goal is to help them out, whether there’s an increase or a decrease,” he said.

After this inaugural event, Mr. Ting said the CPOA hopes to do this kind of outreach twice a year.

This upward trend has been seen all over Los Angeles County. Despite the passage of Measure M throughout the county and local measures such as Measure HHH in Los Angeles, the number of homeless individuals in the county jumped up 12 percent, to a total of 58,936 people.

According to data from LAHSA based on the most recent homeless count, there are 27 homeless individuals in Claremont. That is one less person from last year’s count of 28, but nine more than the 18 people counted in 2017.

Some live in plain sight, such as in the Village or in a public park. But others live in areas unknown or overlooked by the average Claremont resident.

On Friday, the CPOA contacted a man who was living in a storm drain underneath the railroad tracks just south of the Metrolink parking lot. Three others were found in a storm drain between the westbound 10 freeway off-ramp and a few businesses.

One of those individuals, a younger man in his early 20s, thanked the officers for their outreach.

“You guys are doing it,” he said. “It’s a good change.”

Walking back to the Tahoe, Nick Martinez reflected on that moment.

“That made me feel good,” he said.

 

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com