Before mental illness and drugs took over, the woman living in a tent at Modjeska Park worked as a UPS manager and her boyfriend appraised real estate.
Rebecca Smith, 43, and Timothy Robinson, 42, told police they had been drug free for the past few months. All they needed now, said Anaheim Police Officer Mathew Beck, was transportation to Tennessee where relatives waited to help.
Thanks in part to the city’s focus on serving the homeless and its charitable partners, the couple have a roof over their heads today, family support and hope for a brighter future.
“They were super thankful,” Beck said in late October. “I called them this morning, and his mother got on the phone and thanked me for getting them home.”
The police department recognizes the importance of finding effective new methods to help homeless people get assistance.
As part of a city-wide strategy lead by the Community Services Department, the police department recently partnered with Orange Health Care Agency to create a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). The purpose of PERT is to be a field-based assistance provider to people with mental health issues. The PERT Team consists of a full-time mental health clinician, Mari Tafoya, and officers Beck and Jacques Laffoon.
They respond to calls involving the mentally ill and proactively contact the homeless to provide services.
When the need is care at a mental or heath care facility the PERT Team provides transportation, facility processing and arranges follow-up care.
Sometimes, all somebody needs is a ride home. That was the case on Oct. 26 for Smith and Robinson.
After meeting the couple, Beck and Laffoon called Coast-to-Coast, a non-profit foundation based in Fullerton. Its CEO and founder, Marie Avena, responded with two bus tickets to Tennessee. Beck and Laffoon helped pack the couple’s belongings and drove them to the bus station.
An 11-year APD veteran, Beck – who was already unofficially considered APD’s “homeless liaison officer” – volunteered for the new role. “It’s rewarding, especially after experiences like this,” he said. “That’s why we’re here – to help.”
And there is plenty of help needed.
In July 2013, the Orange County Homeless Count & Survey Report concluded that 22 percent of the county’s unsheltered homeless were mentally ill and 45 percent were chronic substance abusers.
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