Not Just Handing Out Tickets: How police officer Enrique is helping address homelessness in Santa Monica

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Enrique was born in Mexico City and moved to Santa Monica at the age of 13. He grew up near Santa Monica College, which he attended after graduating from Santa Monica High School. He’s loved the feeling of community and diversity here since day one — not to mention the city’s beauty and proximity to the ocean. He says he can’t imagine working anywhere else.

Enrique is a Santa Monica police officer, and he says his work is his way of giving back to the community and making it a better, stronger, safer place. Still, he says, police officers are sometimes misunderstood. The first thing Enrique would like people to understand? That there’s more to his work than just writing tickets and making arrests. In fact, as a member of the police department’s Homeless Liaison Program, there’s a lot more to it.

The Homeless Liaison Program

The Homeless Liaison Program — HLP — is a team of eight police officers and one sergeant and their main focus is to do outreach with the city’s homeless population. Enrique and his team get to know the people living on the street and work to refer them to services, like housing, food stamps, or even getting an ID card. They also work to get in touch with family members who may have insight on specific factors that can help the team determine which services they should refer individuals to.

The HLP Team also takes mental health into account in a big way. The program is assigned its own Department of Mental Health clinician, who rides along with the officers and performs in-the-field evaluations. This relational and mental health approach of the HLP is an innovative holistic twist on “policing homelessness”, one that’s meant to address the issue in more permanent and humane ways.

Enrique says the work does take time and patience, and that sometimes — progress doesn’t look like progress. He tells the story of an individual who’d been arrested by his patrol partner, Liz, on several occasions. This individual had been homeless for 15 years, and Liz had steadily worked to build a relationship with him and connect him to services. Liz was met with resistance time and again. The person wasn’t interested in services, and so the cycle of arrests continued. But with each arrest, something began to shift. During his stays in jail, this person was, ironically, able to actually receive the services he so desperately needed. Each arrest meant more services and eventually, this man had a foundation of health and support to build on. Today, that man has managed to work his way out of homelessness — thanks to those arrests that — amazingly — put him on the right track.

Enrique gives props to his partner for her loyal work with this person and says that it’s moments like these that are most satisfying about his work: “Once they get housed, it gives us a sense of closure, or success — that we were actually part of getting somebody indoors after 10 or 15 years of living on the street.”

Dealing With Homelessness in the Community

Enrique recommends using common sense when dealing with homelessness. If someone seems to be in need of physical or psychological help, don’t attempt to deal with it yourself. Instead, call the police department, and they can send someone out to do an evaluation.

Remember, dealing with the homelessness crisis takes all of us. There are 53,000 individuals experiencing homelessness countywide, and every month 13,000 more people lose their housing. For more tips on how to deal with this epidemic check out the Homelessness Toolkit, a practical guide on what to say and what to do about this regional crisis impacting our community.

And for more information on how Santa Monica is addressing homelessness, visit weare.santamonica.gov.