Sunday, July 31, 2011

Andy Rios: The 3 Hour Fix

It was the best of cases, it was the worst of cases. It's also an unflattering social parallel where my latest homeless sidekick, Andy Rios, plays the real-life nonfictional protagonist with a virtuous and congenial nature.

In this lateral and contemporary Dickens satire, Rios fell into an abyss -- an 8 month homeless odyssey of life on the street, pushing a shopping cart.

Rios, by all accounts, has a regulated but challenging mental health obstacle. After his mother passed some time ago, he was left to fend for himself in a one bedroom subsidized apartment and he seemed to get by on his own with little help. That was until his one bedroom apartment became disqualified for the rent subsidy which landed him on the street with little notice. For Rios, this predicament is more than just a brain teaser of the crossword solving variety -- it's a debilitating arch villain.

Fortunately for Rios, when you're homeless and on the streets of Tampa a deputy will eventually find you and get you help if you need it -- and, in Rios' case he needed it. After hearing about him in the first email detailing where and how to find him, it was still a few months before I would be able to hunt him down. That's because of his kindred, under the radar demeanor -- he doesn't make waves and isn't the typical source of complaints.

After a co-op of patrol deputies finally unearthed him and alerted me to his location, a quick assessment led to the startling familiarity that he should never have been homeless. He was equipped with his ID card, a monthly disability check, and food stamps -- now he just needed help finding shelter from the anemic fallout of the streets.

As a matter of newly acquired protocol, we don't refer or direct the homeless on where or how to get help -- they get in our back seat and we drive them there. With the homeless initiative in full-swing we know in advance which resources are the most likely to offer the right type of assistance based on their individual circumstances.

When Rios was ultimately snared and evaluated, it wasn't much more than a 3-hour investment in time and resources before we found him a place to stay and shelter from the boulevards and byways of his aimless odyssey of life on the streets.

A special Thanks to Deputy Owen, Deputy Delre, and Deputy Thomas who helped make it happen.

See Andy Rios' story covered by Jeff Butera in the ABC Action News segment posted at the lower end of this blog.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Homeless Trends: An Applied Social Science Experiment

Consider the last few visits to the grocery store on food shopping day. Of the last five times you went food shopping did you most likely return to the same exact store? For most people the answer is typically: yes! Not a lot of profound theory mixed in with that question but criminologist would explain that all people -- law abiding, those with criminal minds and even the homeless follow daily and weekly traveling rituals called activity patterns.

If you should take three locations to include where you work, where you live, and where you recreate -- they form a geographical pattern, or triangle, called an activity space. Crime analyst use the concept of crime pattern theory to piece together offenders with their offending patterns to distinguish between how offenders search for crime and when they find it by accident.

Those both curious and confused often ask how I manage to track the entire homeless population for north west Hillsborugh county.

The answer is deceptively simple.

If the chronically homeless population don't work, don't have a home they travel to after work and don't generally recreate -- do they have an identifiable activity pattern?

The answer is: yes

But, instead of a triangular activity pattern, the bulk of the population, have a most definite linear geographical traveling ritual up and down the same heavily traveled thoroughfare of Hillsborough Ave.

Human behaviorism explains that when you travel on vacation and look for the ketchup aisle in the unfamiliar layout of your first visit to a different grocery store, you may grow frustrated trying to find the desired condiment shelf in a super mega-store. The homeless are no different as they return to the same watering holes where they know a Lutheran church will feed them at a specific time, location and manner, at the sounding of a 3 o'clock church bell.

An activity pattern would govern a rule of behavior that we have grown accustom to and are most comfortable with, knowing that the owner of the Latin Mini-Mart is more lenient with the homeless loitering behind their store than a neighboring 7-11 might be.

The homeless maintain a pattern they are familiar with as a tenet of street survival which most closely accords with quiet enjoyment as strange as that may sound. They are familiar with the rules of the land, both written and unwritten -- when dealing with the police and those that may be unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless.

A more identifiable component of a social science theory would explain the categorized homeless are merely a subculture, of a much larger, more mainstream demographic group. Because within this subset you have your clicks, your charlatans -- even your outliers and outcasts.

And much like their more mainstream brethren they are undeniably social animals that support each other as part of a shared communal reliance that supports an existing homeless continuum. This communal effect, not unique within the homeless population, is the same supportive structure that comforts the needs and desires of every social animal that is part of an identified community -- subcultural or otherwise.

The hot spot map illustration (upper left-hand corner) is an actual density map which tracked 6 months of my engagement with the homeless on the street. The red or darker the color indicates a higher density of homeless when compared to yellow or lower density of homeless. You can see that their activity pattern is, in fact, linear and follows the main corridor of Hillsborough Ave from Benjamin Rd to the east and Sheldon Rd to the west.

This is where I spend eighty percent of my engagement time and illustrates how I manage an entire homeless population with very little effort.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Geoffrey Beene, Tommy Hilfiger, Bob Coates Help With Initiative

You may recognize Beene and Hilfiger as premium styled brands of classic American apparel. You may not recognize Bob Coates -- a classic American humanitarian. Coates hunted me down on Facebook after reading the St. Pete Times story covering the Homeless Initiative -- after friending me, he made a generous offer of two Televisions and three bags of barley used mens clothing.

I rarely pass out such offerings to my homeless candidates until they get off the streets; because, I want them to be uncomfortable, not cozy in a cardboard box shaped like a house. But when Coates extended the offer I'd figure I could do some olive branching with those still homeless but cooperating with the initiative.

It wasn't until I opened the first bag of clothing did I realize how generous a man Coates apparently is, since most everything was named brand and barely used. He also offered two televisions even though I was only able to take one; I already know who will be the likely recipient -- a young man who just recently found an apartment and got off the streets.

So, a special thanks to Bob Coates -- a true humanitarian and discriminating aficionado of fine mens clothing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Big Baritone Dave" He Sings Different Tune Now

When your on the streets it's not long before you are bestowed a street moniker -- a nick name, of sorts; and in David's relatively short time co-mingling amongst the Town N' Country homeless he was tagged "Big Dave".

I met David after he was referred to me for help by one of my earliest homeless candidates, Albert Swiger. Swiger, still to this day, associates with those that remain homeless and is my walking billboard: "Call Deputy Donaldson, he'll do what he can to get you off the streets." It was Swiger's simple pitch to David who pulled up on his bicycle to meet with me at a Racetrack gas station.

After meeting David for the first time it was his intermediate voice, somewhere between tenor and bass, that grabbed me the most and it landed him with the newly acquired distinction of "Big Baritone Dave."

The polished recast seemed to stick.

David was on the streets for a matter of months instead of years like most that we come across. The street engagement caught him sooner than later and is a testament to the benefits of early detection. The longer a homeless person remains homeless the harder it may be to solve his or her problem.

After a quick assessment of David's needs and circumstances I was confident that he would be a quick fix for recovery.

Our first stop was at Homeless Recovery on Tampa Street where a case worker named "Suzanne" asked about his job experience and working skills.

David has an affable gift of gab, hitched with his low-pitched delivery, making him a natural mouthpiece for persuasion. Within days he had at least one job offer as a telemarketer with a local company which he accepted and is still working there today.

He found a place to stay on his own and has been off the streets ever since -- just days after our first meeting. He didn't have a big problem to solve he just needed a little help in the right direction.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Red Cap Plumbing And Homeless Initiative Get Another One Off The Streets

After a year of working with Steven Venus, a Town N' Country homeless man, he finally came up with a solution that would reconnect him with a support system -- his family in Sparta, Illinois. Steven told me: "If you can get me a Bus ticket, my step-dad is anxious to take me in and get me back on my feet." After speaking directly with Steven's step-father in Sparta my next call was to John Gennaro, founder and President of Red Cap Plumbing.

After I explained the game plan to Gennaro he didn't think twice about getting on-line and booking a bus pass for Steven so he can return to his family where he will get the much needed help. "It's a small investment for a substantial return," Gennaro said. "A substantial return for Steven and a substantial return for our community."

He challenges other private sector businesses to do the same thing to help turn our communties around.

"It's the right thing to do," said Gennaro.

Steven's Story:

He wasn't the most likely of candidates to become successful and rehabilitate from his years of living on the streets. But, Steven Venus would soon learn that he couldn't escape from the grasp of the Sheriff's Office either. After months of working with Venus and his aversion with the police and conformity all together, he finally came around. A few months back I got a call from Steven, he left a message for me, it read: "I'm ready to get off the streets."

We entered him into the Salvation Army's ARC program for men and for over four months he was dry, happy, and 20 lbs heavier than when living on the street.

I thought we had hit a home run until reality set in -- and Steven fell off the wagon. I received the first phone call from Steven as a "matter of respect," he said. "I wanted you to hear it from me first -- that I failed ...and I'm sorry...but I tried," Steven told me over the phone.

I wasn't mad or even upset because I knew Steven still felt accountable to me and there was still enough flicker in the flame to work with him and that's what we did. We don't give up on people just because they fail, we stay on them until we wear them down enough for them to submit.

Steven decided he was ready to try it again but this time he would have to come up with his own problem-solving answer. We talked about his family in Sparta, Illinois and that he needed a support structure to be successful. It was his idea, the homeless initiative just made it happen!

A special Thanks to John Gennaro and Red Cap Plumbing with helping us get another homeless person off the streets.


Brandon Deputy Joins Homeless Initiative

District II Deputy Brad Clayton works with a homeless Vet on the street in Brandon. Within moments of the encounter Deputy Clayton contacted the Veteran's Administrations homeless coordinator and connected the man with services to get him off the street.

In a short period of time since the introduction of the Homeless Initiative in the Brandon area of District II, Deputy Clayton has quickly embraced the tenets of initiative's working model. Since he volunteered for the effort he shows a more genuine enthusiasm and motivation to seek out his own problem solving answers when challenged with helping the homeless on their turf.

"Yeah, I can definitely see how this will work and maybe why things haven't worked as well in the past" Clayton said. Keep up the good work in Brandon Deputy Clayton!

Sheriff's Office Homless Initiatives Expands to Brandon

The Homeless Initiative expands to Brandon. Hours after Deputy Clayton discovers a homeless man wandering the streets of a rural community, he holds his on-line request to receive his NC birth certificate, the much needed document for a state ID card. What has previously taken weeks and months was reduced to mere hours. "With an ID card I can now apply for work." The homeless man told us. Deputy Clayton even found a sponsor that funded the $25 Dollar cost! "We connect people with problems, to people with answers and want to help." Deputy Clayton said. After working on the Homeless Initiative his first full day on the street he said, " Yeah, I can definitely see how this will work and maybe why things haven't worked as well in the past." Keep up the good work in Brandon Deputy Clayton!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Robert : He Solved the Problem Himself - With Just A little Help

Robert is our latest success story with the District III Homeless Initiative. A 24 year-old young man that we found living in a tent in the woods off of Kelly Road in our zone. I'm proud of Robert for his personal fight to get off the streets - he just needed a little boost to focus on his priorities and to solve the problem himself ... No tax payer money or government assistance was used in solving his residential instability. He was able to find a job, scrape together enough money to rent a nice studio apartment and now is on the road to recovery. Job well done Robert!
He is another fine example of how we can solve these problems simply by law enforcement engaging the homeless instead of simply arresting them.
Robert told me today, "I don't want to be homeless and I never wanted to live on the streets ... I don't want to go back!" he said.
Even though he's moving forward, survival every day is a struggle but he's not the type to give up. He has saved-up his rent for the month from his new job that cut back on his hours recently. He showed me his electric bill which he thought was a little high for a studio apartment. He might be a little short with paying the eighty dollars but he's not the type to complain either.
If you can help out in anyway, let me know. 5 bucks here and 10 bucks there adds up quickly and I'll be sure that he gets all of it. Thanks for every ones help with the homeless initiative. As of today we have fifty-two successful candidates off the streets and into housing!

I am now working full-time on this initiative and speak at others districts to start the program in other areas of the county. Soon enough I truly believe that this will become a national model but it takes the support and backing of the citizenry that demands a different approach from policy makers to simply get the job done!

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
District III
Office: (813) 247-0330

Jay Berman: "Mayor of Town N' Country"

It was a mid-afternoon last week when the office phone rang. I picked up the receiver to hear an overly-anticipated graveled voice.

"Deputy Donaldson!" "Deputy Donaldson!"

I didn't have to ask - I knew it was Jay.

"I found a place - I'm off the streets. I did it for you!" Jay yelled.

When you live on the streets as a homeless person your fellow brethren know you only by a moniker that is your street name. Jay has been dubbed by others: "The Mayor of Town N' Country". I've come to realize that everyone knows your label except the person who wears its tag. Sometimes it's a term of endearment but most times its bestowed as a sharp ironical taunt. Life out on the streets isn't much different than every day water cooler conversations on matters both controversial and jaded. As the haggard card that's been weathered by the years Jay certainly proves the contradiction in jest.

Jay has become an affectionate soul however, to the same mortal entity that's been kicking him to the curb for as long as he's been Mayor of Town N' Country. He often stops deputies on the street just to praise me and to tell them that I'm his best friend. Early on, I wasn't placing much of a bet on Jay's rehabilitation from the street with his hypnotic fascination with the golden glow of Steele Reserve. The preferred brand of high gravity lager -- they know how to get the most bang for their cardboard flying bucks.

Almost a year ago Jay responded to the substation where a case manager was scheduled to pre-screen any homeless person who, maybe wanted to get off the street. It was on this day that Jay applied for disability benefits and health care for his lingering back injury. It wasn't much time later that he received both and for this he apparently feels an indebtedness that he can only repay in gratitude.

But the engagement on the street doesn't stop there if the initiative is to produce a quantifiable success in numbers. Because for Jay to repay his indebtedness to me he is persistently reminded with the bull dog presence of a bad-debt collector that he must get off the streets.

So I am proud to say that as of last week Jay has brought his account current and he has faithfully repaid his debt. You would be surprised to know that Jay receives less than four-hundred dollars a month in disability benefits. But, at this meager rung of the socio-economic ladder it's a much watered down life style where two-hundred dollars a month will buy him a room from a friend to the homeless and shelter from the ashen consequences of life out on the street.

For me, I am a dissenter against getting something for nothing because as the human condition has proven you will only return to the well for more until the well runs dry. If it is true that you reap what you sow, then Jay most likely hasn't been doing much, if any, sowing in his time. He might not have ever paid into a system that was designed to benefit those that do. However, in exchange for the four-hundred dollar benefit the community, county resources and the indigent health care system will undoubtedly be the benefactor in a diffusion of untold benefits.

Like I have said before, I can stay true to my principles or I can solve the problem. I choose to solve the problem because I can't do both.

Thank you.


District III Homeless Initiative on ABC Action News