HomeCommunity NewsOfficials Address Need for Homeless Aid, Fire Prevention

Officials Address Need for Homeless Aid, Fire Prevention

Representatives of a local homeless services agency and law enforcement came to a La Cañada Flintridge City Council meeting recently to speak about two connected needs: helping unhoused people and, in doing so, reducing the danger of wildfire.
“Members of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority go out with [sheriff’s] deputies in the field. They deploy routinely, to connect people experiencing homelessness with the services provided,” said Lt. William Kitchin, a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s homeless outreach services team. He was joined at the meeting by LAHSA Associate Director Kimberly Barnette.
LCF has worked with homeless outreach services since around 2016, but now the city’s priority is high or very high fire severity zones. The homeless outreach services team has been tasked by the county Board of Supervisors to visit elevated areas, where normal street-based outreach does not go, to find encampments that could pose a danger to the community because of fires — for example, warming or cooking fires that could spread out of control — and making sure there are no encampments in the very high severity zones.
Kitchin reminded the community
that homeless individuals are people too.
“We still have to treat [individuals] with dignity and respect within the rule of law,” Kitchin said.
He added that the outreach team also is connected to his department’s mental health team and will go with it to help people it serves.
“We try to find that fit for the person we are talking to, whether [the person’s problem is] drug abuse, mental health issues, alcohol abuse or [they] simply fell on hard times. Though we are partners with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, if they are from out of state, we can arrange them going back to a loved one for care,” said Kitchin.
Now, the team is trying to roll out a public awareness campaign that lets cities and residents within the high fire severity zones to be on the lookout for encampments.
“This campaign will ask cities and residents to partner with us. We only have a limited amount of resources and I know the residents are the ones hiking the trails, enjoying the beautiful landscape here. They’re going to know where these people are before we do sometimes, and that’s where we can partner and help each other to ensure that our communities are safe from those fires,” said Kitchin.

The first step to approach homeless people is to treat them just like any other human beings, a sheriff’s official said. — Courtesy Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Services Team

Kitchin said that they have a limited number of resources because, as of now, they have only four deputies in the entire county in charge of homeless outreach. They are in the process of getting four more in the future.
“What is some advice you would provide to residents if they want to help or if they see a situation that maybe needs someone to help provide assistance?” asked Mayor Keith Eich.
If it’s an emergency or someone is in danger, call the local station via 911, Kitchin said.
“We know that if there is a problem, one turns into two and two turns into three, and then it becomes a bigger problem. So, the quicker that my deputies and the homeless outreach workers can get there and talk to the person, [the better],” said Kitchin.
Kitchin advised community members to call the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station so it can contact outreach deputies or email bsbensah@lasd.org if they are seeking guidance.
If residents need guidance when in contact with a homeless individual, they can also go to LA-hop.org to request an outreach worker to come out.
Eich also mentioned that churches in the LCF area have banded together to support the homeless population from time to time, and he asked Kitchin if there is a way churches can help support the outreach services.
“Some people may have a huge heart and try to help the population, which kind of backfires sometimes. What I would say, if they are doing something good and noble, what comes with that? Is there a homeless service worker there connecting them to the services?” said Kitchin, replying to Eich.
Kitchin said there is an opportunity to have a “connect day” where the outreach services unit brings people who can help those in need, if the churches are interested.
“We can’t do this alone. It takes everyone, and when we all band together, we can have as many resources as possible available for people in differing needs,” LAHSA’s Barnette said.

First published in the March 16 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.


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