Homeless Outreach Team

With the hiring of Chief Bernadette DiPino the Sarasota Police Department began to reinvent the purpose of the police agency.  The Sarasota Police Department’s philosophy is to Educate, Encourage, and Enforcement.  In order to direct people to available service providers, the Sarasota Police Department created a Transient Liaison position, and then in 2014 hired a mental health specialist to also work with the transient population.  Today, the Sarasota Police Department has a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) which includes a Sergeant, 4 Officers, and two Civilian Case Managers.  

The Homeless Outreach Team is currently under the supervision of Captain Kevin Stiff, the Commander of the Police Department’s Patrol Division.  Under Captain Stiff’s tutelage members of the Homeless Outreach Team perform outreach services which are the main focus of the unit.  The Homeless Outreach Team has several ways of assisting people in need which includes conducting outreach, case management, a voucher program, the Homeless Outreach Team program at the Salvation Army, and partnership with local outside agencies.  These efforts have proven to be effective as more services are being offered to those in need.  The following is an outline of each process the Homeless Outreach Team is utilizing to help those in need.  New ways of assisting the displaced are being discussed daily.

Educate, Encourge, and Enforcement Philosophy

  • The Sarasota Police Department will Educate individuals on what services are available through the local Continuum of Care by the Coordinated Entry System.
  • The Sarasota Police Department will Encourage individuals upon every contact to meet with the Homeless Outreach Team and to accept transportation to service providers and/or the Coordinated Entry system.
  • The Sarasota Police Department will take Enforcement action when Education and Encouragement have failed or the situation dictates immediate action.

Outreach

  • Outreach is the meeting with people where they are geographically, philosophically and emotionally.  This is the essence of outreach to people who are experiencing homelessness.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team is a bridge between homelessness and the Continuum of Care within Sarasota County.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team provides educational material that highlights service providers, to every individual willing to accept the information.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team case managers and/or officers take their time with each individual during every contact to explain the educational material.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team conducts outreach daily and responds to requests of service on call. 
  • The Homeless Outreach Team offers outreach services to individuals throughout the entire city of Sarasota.  Places of contact with individuals include the Sarasota Health Department, the Sarasota County Jail, homeless encampments, the Salvation Army, the Resurrection House, the Selby Library, Sarasota City Hall, city parks and the Sarasota County Bus Station (SCAT) located at 2nd St and Lemon Ave.
  • The Homeless Outreach Case Managers meet weekly with other case managers from the Continuum of Care to discuss vulnerable individuals needing services.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team provides transportation to individuals requesting or accepting services to of any Continuum of Care agency with the Sarasota region.  

Case Management

  • The Homeless Outreach Team Case Managers and/or Officers assist individuals and families with finding available services within the Continuum of Care.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team Case Managers and/or Officers do help identify the individual’s goals and needs.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team Case Managers and/or Officers formulate a plan to meet those goals with the individual.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team Case Managers and/or Officers do connect the individual with the service provider of the individual/s’ choosing.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team Case Managers and/or Officers do maintain communication with the individual/s to evaluate the plan to ensure it is meeting the client’s goals. 

HOT Program at the Salvation Army

  • On October 1, 2015 the City of Sarasota and Salvation Army entered an agreement that guarantees a free night in a bed at the Salvation Army when that individual is brought in by the Sarasota Police Department.
  •  Individuals are provided Shelter, Security, and Food.
  • This program is voluntary and no one is forced to enter the program.
  • Individuals will have 3 nights free in the program, if the individual meets with a Case Manager.  After the 3rd day if the individual does not want additional services they will leave.
  • If the person is willing to meet with a case manager and help develop a plan for them to enter the Continuum of Care, then the individual will get an additional 4 days in the program.     

Partnership with Local Outside Agencies

  • The Homeless Outreach Team has partnered with other local agencies. 
  • Many of these agencies do participate in outreach with the Homeless Outreach Team each Tuesday.  Some of these organizations include Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Sarasota-Manatee, Vocational Rehabilitation, School House Link, and Coastal Behavioral. 
  • Each agency provides different services that can benefit homeless individuals.  

Homeward Bound Program

  •  The Homeless Outreach Team does assist individuals needing transportation services to travel home to be with family or loved ones.  It also allows for the individual, who has a confirmed job out of town and a residence is available to he or she.  Plus if an individual has arrangements to live with a friend, or the individual will be entering a service program out of town, they too are eligible to receive assistance.
  • The Homeless Outreach Team does confirm any of the above reasons for needing transportation.  
  • The Homeless Outreach Team will verify the traveler has no outstanding warrants; PCA’s, is not listed as a missing person, nor used the Homeward Bound Program before.
  • The Homeless Outreach does provide transportation for the individual to the Greyhound Bus station.
  • If the travel is to last over four hours, the traveler will be provided a snack and drink by a local social service provider. 

Voucher Program

  • Currently, the city has an agreement with the Sarasota Housing Authority which will allow for 15 homeless individuals to receive vouchers for housing. 
  • Each individual and/or family involved in the Voucher Program will have to meet the standards of any other individual and/or family who would qualify for HUD. 
  • The Homeless Outreach Team does assist those individuals in finding housing if they are unable to find housing on their own.
  • A voucher holder will have case management for a period of one year with a case manager of the Homeless Outreach Team.   

Conclusion

Homeless Outreach is an important function within the Sarasota Police Department.  The Sarasota Police Department will continue to Educate and Encourage individuals to use services provided by the Continuum of Care.  The Sarasota Police Department will make every effort to Educate and Encourage individuals before Enforcement takes place when applicable.  Taking on social economic issues using community policing and intelligent based policing is the mission and vision of the police department.  This is accomplished by providing outreach services to the homeless population, and bridging the gap between outside agencies and potential clients.  An important aspect of assisting homelessness is providing a housing voucher to those who qualify is a benefit to the community as it greatly assists people in getting affordable housing.  Partnering with outside agencies that are in the Continuum of Care strengthens and reaffirms the commitment the police department has with the community.  The Sarasota Police Department no longer addresses homelessness by first arresting individuals.  The Sarasota Police Department is and will continue to Educate and Encourage individuals to use services in the Continuum of Care, and will Enforce violation only when necessary.   In 2015 the Homeless Outreach Team made 7344 contacts with homeless individuals, 73 individuals enter the program HOT program at the Salvation Army that was started on October 1st, identified 9 active camps, and issued 8 HUD vouchers.