Reaching Out To The Homeless | Houston , Texas | Click2Houston KPRC NBC
“These are the caves,” Houston Police Officer Jaime Giraldo said as he led Local 2 Investigates to a spot just under the part of Louisiana Street that is a bridge spanning Buffalo Bayou.
The space isn’t tall enough for a person to stand-up, but spreads like a web into the underground darkness. The beam of our flashlight moved over trash, clothes, and sleeping bags.
“How far back does this go?” asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“Well, it snakes. It goes all along the bridge area,” said Sergeant Stephen Wick. “We’ve had whole families in here.”
Wick, Giraldo, and Officer Janice Terry are members of HPD’s Homeless Outreach Team. The department’s initiative started in January of 2011 and these officers are helping pioneer the way law enforcement interacts with the homeless community.
“A person that is living on the streets can’t afford to pay a ticket,” said Wick. “If we can get them off the street, they won’t be committing all the things that they get complained on and written tickets for.”
The goal of this team is not to simply corral members of the homeless population into shelters, but to help those living on the streets find a permanent home.
“Pretty amazing to see somebody who has been homeless for years open the door to their new apartment,” said Giraldo. “That does it for me.”
Everyday, this team cruises the streets of Houston in a specially equipped van and on a bicycle; trying to connect with those who live on the sidewalks, under bridges or in homeless camps near the freeway.
In the first two months of this year, members of this team made contact and offered help to 285 people, found housing for 18 people, and conducted follow up visits with 86 people they helped get off the streets.
Even after finding a person a place to live, these officers work to make sure these individuals have at least some creature comforts, like batteries for a remote control or a working television
“That’s what we do to try to make sure our clients have some normalcy with their lives,” said Terry.
To show how this initiative is working, officers introduced us to Daniel Smith, a deaf man who officers said was a constant victim while living on the street. Communicating with written word and perseverance, officers got Smith into his apartment and check in on him regularly to make sure he is doing well.