Ronald Duncan says many of the faces that he is so used to seeing as a member of the Longview Police Outreach Services Team have faded away.
That’s because a focus on “outreach over enforcement” is helping the city make progress in efforts to address homelessness and related issues.
The biggest takeaway from speaking with Duncan for a story this past Sunday is the overall goal of ordinances approved in September 2017 in Longview is steadily being accomplished.
Homeless residents are being placed into rehabilitation programs, housing and jobs and “not just continuing to do what they’ve been doing,” he told us.
In early 2018, the city put recommendations from a committee on homeless issues into action, including the creation of the two-man Police Outreach Services Team. That team is tasked with identifying homeless residents and their needs while referring them to service providers in the community with the ultimate goal of helping them into better living situations.
The city also at that time implemented an anti-camping ordinance that mirrors a recently approved state law. And an anti-solicitation ordinance outlaws soliciting for money in a way that threatens other people and in certain locations around Longview.
Duncan also pointed out to us that calls to police regarding solicitation have decreased.
(However, data from the city show the number of citations issued for soliciting in a solicitation-free zone have not decreased. That number was 32 in 2018; 32 in 2019; 38 in 2020; and 28 through July 12 of this year. But citations for camping in the city have declined, with six issued this year compared with 30 in 2020.)
Homelessness is a complicated problem with multiple roots. That means the help offered by POST officers isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and makes their job even more challenging.
Unemployment or other family crisis, drug or alcohol abuse and possibly the most challenging, mental health issues, are common causes.
That makes the experience and qualifications of the second POST officer, Christopher Byrdsong, even more valuable. Byrdsong is a certified mental health police officer and former unit manager at what was Meadow Pines Hospital, which served people with mental illness.
That background, as Duncan told us, proves extremely valuable when interacting with the homeless community members the team comes into contact with.
Byrdsong is able to work effectively with people with substance abuse and mental health issues and then direct them to assistance. Duncan said a number of people have been able to get into rehabilitation programs and housing through his help.
Headway hasn’t been easy since the city adopted its homelessness ordinances almost four years ago.
Duncan admitted as much.
“We’re at a spot where we’re comfortable with the progress we’re seeing and how we’re doing it,” he said. “We’ve got most of the wrinkles ironed out.”
Difficult problems require solutions that target the source, such as the approach taken by the POST officers.
The results that Duncan talked about prove the city has found effective ways to approach the problem of homelessness in our city.