Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Deputy Jerry Andrews Advances Initiative in SuitCase City

Many months ago when the Homeless Initiative began to surface, I knew that its tenets were derived from a core set of values, a belief system, that would have to attract a larger audience. For the initiative to help more people it would have to grow and expand into other areas and even other agencies.

The first leg of this expansion spilled over into the District I area of Hillsborough County, often alluded to as "Suitcase City", mostly due to its transient population with a prominent homeless presence.

The concept of the initiative was introduced at every early morning roll call at District I, in hopes that just one deputy would step up to the plate and spearhead this contemporary brand of law enforcement doctrine as it scaled incrementally. It would take the right type of person or personality trait however, and ultimately it was Deputy Jerry Andrews who was hand picked amongst the likely candidates.

In the months that would follow Andrews has kicked down a lot of doors in what has been seen by many as a fragmented system to help the homeless. Sometimes to make things happen differently you have to be a consequential and candid candidate to a fault. When your trying to do things that defy conventional wisdom you're seen as a disruptor or a contrarion; but, admittedly Andrews wears this new found title as a distinguished badge of honor.

There has been significant progress for change in Andrews wake -- a number of resources have been unearthed -- programs that have helped his homeless get off the streets, receive free eye exams and prescription eye wear, and most recently he assisted a young homeless women expecting a child find housing.

It seems that Andrews has his own set of core values that align with the same values as the homeless initiative and that's what made him a natural selection to be at the forefront of this pioneering effort.

So, a special tribute to District I and their very own Deputy Andrews for thoughtfully embracing the initiative and making it their own.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required."

This past Wednesday morning started out like most with the homeless initiative in full-swing -- it's 7:00 am, traveling north on Dale Mabry Highway in morning traffic headed to an early morning appointment where two of my recently housed candidates are waiting for a ride to Workforce Alliance to get help with employment assistance.

Then came the distraction on the side of the roadway. A sixty-year-old man, shirtless and pot-bellied, thumbing a ride as he hobbled with a limp in the concrete gutter.

It doesn't take an expert eye to identify the telltale signs of homelessness: disheveled, unkempt in appearance, surrounded and beset with troubles. I doubled back rerouting abruptly into the closest parking lot to intercept the staggered hitchhiking senior.

The open-ended introduction usually starts in a typical fashion on the street, "What's going on?" I said. Bypassing the formal exchange in the interest of the tight morning schedule.

The man's name is James, and as suspected -- he has been homeless for a year -- just released from the community hospital up the street. He still wears the hospital wrist band and the impressions of two heart monitoring leads freshly ripped from his chest. James tells me that he's thumbing a ride to the social security office but admits he doesn't know it's exact location. With no realistic plan in mind James is a wandering and haphazard mess, his outcome out of his grief is determined by and dependent only on chance and blind luck.

A quick assessment reveals the most urgent priorities for a man in his condition: food, clothing and at least interim shelter. Within minutes of our first meeting James is in my back seat -- we're on our way to a homeless recovery agency by the 7:30 am deadline for assistance. I scratch out a written referral detailing a summary of James' dilemma with a quick note that says: 

"... call me on my cell when he's done."

We now have a working relationship with these agencies; so now, they're in proper cadence with the strategy that comes along with this type of street engagement. It's this type of cooperating effort between traditionally disconnected government entities that has filled the gaps in what has always been a fragmented system.

Fast forward to 1:30 in the afternoon, my two earlier candidates are finished with their employment assistance and returned home. I get a call from Suzanne, the Homeless Recovery case manager helping James. Suzanne discusses her strategy for James over the telephone and asks for my input -- she explains,

 "I've given him an emergency food voucher, some fresh clothing, and interim housing until the end of the month."

 "Great", I said. He has his head above water and now we can work on solving his bigger problems.

I pick James up and hammer out a few details with Suzanne to get the ball rolling with his recovery -- first, a trip to to the Sweet Bay grocery where customers snap there heads in a double take watching a cop and a homeless man fill the basket with the benefit of a food voucher. Thanks to Leona, an office employee at District III, he also received a bag of mens toiletries which greatly saved him on his food bill. It's a quick $65 Dollar food run then back into the patrol car to his interim housing around the corner. James gets situated into his new bunk, and eventually showered and into some fresh clothing.

However ill-conceived, James came down to Florida a year ago to help his son, but like many, he fell into a trap himself. His solution should be easy, he says: a $110 Dollar bus fare back to New Jersey where he has roots and friends that he know will help. In Florida he has no such legacy of assistance. So the plan is in motion -- I'll reach out to someone for the meager investment in their community, I know someone will step up since, "For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required."

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
District III Homeless Initiative
Office: (813) 247-0330
Email:  sdonalds@hcso.tamp.fl.us

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jay Berman: "Mayor of Town N' Country" Holds Impromptu Town Hall Meeting

It was during Friday's lunch hour at the Town N' Country ABC Pizza where Jay Berman arrived unannounced.

As you may recall, Jay has been dubbed the "Mayor of Town N' Country" by his homeless cohorts. I'm not certain of it's origin, other than to say it was most likely derived from a sneering contempt.

Nonetheless, he affectionately wears it well; as he spotted me seated in a booth within the crowded dining room with a fellow deputy. Jay stood at the edge of our table to pay homage to the deputy he seemingly feels beholden. Jay probably has received less assistance when compared to the many others we have helped get off the streets. But as Jay put it, while grandstanding with his ear-splitting demonstration of thanks, "You've helped me more than anyone...and I wanted to thank you!"

Jay then reached into his pocket and offers to pay for my lunch buffet.

"Jay, put the money back in your pocket." I said. "I can't take your money, this is what we get paid to do."

I did sit down with Jay later at his table and the before and after picture is almost startling. He's cleaned-up, his hair had been recently cut and his clothes were clean. He even told me that he is trying to kick his fixation with drinking and has been attending "AA" meetings.

The homeless initiative adheres to the "housing-first" philosophy, where we believe once these folks have a home off the streets everything else will eventually fall into place. Jay has proven that for me, since early on I didn't have a lot of faith in his successful rehabilitation.

I'm proud to say Jay has proven that my doubt was wrong -- and with that, he as well re-payed any personal obligation of indebtedness.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lenscrafters Set Their Sights On The Homeless

It was an early Wednesday morning when a call for service came in -- a homeless man was sleeping behind a Publix and management wanted him relocated. I pulled my cruiser around the back near the loading dock area and didn't see anything. Then, there on a stack of wooden pallets stored against a retention wall -- I saw some movement. Curled up like a stray cat seeking shelter from the elements, the 6'6" tall homeless man unraveled from his awkward slumber to be greeted by the police.

It's almost a standard sequence of events -- they seek shelter, someone complains and the police show up.

There has always been the unwritten protocol -- you run them for warrants, ask them the redundant question -- what are you doing here? Them you kick' em down the road.

The difference now, of course, when compared to the past is the outcome of the encounter.

We did get Jeffrey, the homeless man, some interim shelter once he realized that he couldn't do it on his own after a few weeks of trying. With every first encounter on the street, the homeless are given my business card along with some parting instructions:

"..the best thing you can do for yourself is stay in touch with me."

They're a little confused at first, with such an offering of help delivered by a uniformed police officer, but the parting message seems to stick. Since most hold on to my name and number and when the reality of life on the streets reaches an unsavory tipping point, they make the phone call.

After getting Jeffrey settled into housing it was the glaring spider-web crack of his prescription lenses that needed fixing first. Things like that break easy when you're sleeping on wooden pallets behind loading docks.

Fortunately, my District I counterpart, Deputy Andrews found Lenscrafters at Brandon Town Center mall that offers prescription replacements for the homeless at no cost. They are a valuable resource -- and soon enough, the gracious staff were more than welcoming with helping Jeffrey. He soon walked out with a free eye exam and fitted with a new replacement pair of prescription glasses.

So, once again, a special thanks to Dr. Winkler and the fine staff at Lenscrafters, Brandon Town Center mall.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Private Sector Steps Up To The Plate, Again

We all remember Robert, the 24-year-old homeless young man that used to live in a tent behind a church in Town N' Country. It wasn't long after we first discovered Robert camping as a wandering nomad did he get his first sign of relief -- he found a job with a nearby employment agency. Robert saved enough money to rent a small efficiency and is now off the streets.

It's only been a short time since Robert has been off the street, however -- so day-to-day survival is still a struggle. It's not always easy climbing out of a hole and keeping your head above water, particularly when you're trying to do it on your own.

Robert telephoned me August 1st, making a tentative call for assistance -- Robert explained: "I'm going to be short a $100 Dollars for rent this month." We like to follow up on our homeless candidates especially those that have just found their way off the streets; conceding that, once they're into housing we want them to stay there -- even if they need a little boost every now and again.

If I didn't feel Robert was a legitimate case for a little helping hand then I would have nixed his call for relief -- I've had to do it before.

But, in Robert's case I was glad to help.

Looking for a $100 Dollar sponsor, I called the owner of Unique Pest Control, a man I've known for 45-years, Carl Donaldson. The same man that happens to be my dad in as many years. It was a meager investment for someone that's been in business for over 35 years -- but, a sincere gesture of philanthropy nonetheless. I thought that he would be a likely last minute donor following his affirming reaction after reading the story covering the Homeless Initiative in the St Pete Times.

To most of us, $100 Dollars might not deliver the same reaction as when Robert got the word that someone he never met was going to help him out. I think he was mostly surprised that I was able to find someone so quickly that would answer the call for help -- to Robert though, it was a financial windfall.

I know this may not be another story of financial blessing in lotto-sized proportions; but, it is another story of connecting people in need with people who want to help.

A special thanks to my dad for helping out.