Bringing Services, Resources to Homeless People

Kathleen Hemesath chats with Bart who has been homeless for a week.

It’s not yet 10 a.m. on a recent Thursday and a group of San Diego Police officers are gathering near a parking a lot at Mariner’s Point Park in Mission Beach.

They are not alone. Joining them are mental health and treatment counselors, housing specialists and representatives from the County’s Health and Human Services Agency and other service organizations.

After a brief explanation of the day’s activities, the officers are paired with service providers from 10 local organizations and they take off in their police cars.

Their goal?

To find people who are homeless, establish a rapport, and offer them an array of services that may assist them in getting into a shelter or housing.

“We’re bringing resources directly to those who need them,” said Officer Christopher Harrison, who organizes the weekly events through the San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

The Homeless Outreach Team is usually composed of police officers, a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team clinician and a County human services specialist. They go out on a daily basis and try to engage persons ready to commit to getting off the streets. The team will assist them by facilitating their placement into an emergency shelter and linking them with appropriate services.

In addition to the daily HOT activities, Harrison brought extra officers on board and invited service providers to come along for a monthly outreach event in different jurisdictions of the city. The monthly event is now conducted every Thursday at different hours and areas given the success of the targeted outreach efforts.

This year’s count by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless found there are 9,116 homeless men, women and children in the San Diego region, a 5 percent increase compared to 2016. Of those, 5,621 are unsheltered or living in the streets; that is a 14 percent increase compared to the previous year.

“The outreach events allow us to develop a relationship of trust. Homeless people are more willing to work with us and we’re able to connect them to resources,” Harrison said.

Officer Harrison and Hemesath discuss the day's activities.
Officer Harrison and Hemesath discuss the day’s activities.

For two hours, the teams of officers and service providers canvass the streets in the area looking for people experiencing homelessness to offer assistance. They are looking for people like Bart, who was sitting at a bench in the park before most officers arrived.

Officer Harrison had already spoken to Bart who had been homeless for almost a week because, he said, “they kicked me out of the place where I was living.”

Bart spoke to a mental health specialist and a drug treatment counselor, but that was not what the 67-year-old man wanted help with. He was mostly concerned about finding out why he was getting so little money from Social Security.

The group decides it would be best for Bart to speak with Kathleen Hemesath, a human services specialist with the County Health and Human Services Agency, who is part of the City’s Homeless Outreach Team.

“Our goal is to end their homelessness however we can,” said Hemesath, who has been working with the outreach team for five years. “The service providers are here today to help with activities we do every day.”

Hemesath stayed behind speaking with Bart, while the teams of officers and service providers continued combing the area.

After a few questions, Hemesath learns Bart is on parole and is receiving Medicare and CalFresh, commonly referred to as food stamps.

She calls the Social Security office in San Diego and learns that the reason Bart’s benefits were lowered is because his Supplemental Security Income was suspended when he violated the terms of his parole.

Hemesath told Bart he should apply for Supplemental Security Income again. He said he’ll do that since he knows where the office is, and he has a bus pass to get there.

Bart says he does not have mental illness, but Hemesath finds out the facility where he was living is a place for people with complex behavioral health needs.

Also, Bart was not kicked out, but chose to leave because he did not want to participate in the program’s activities or follow the rules.

While Hemesath is talking with Bart, a homeless woman walks by. Based on previous encounters, Hemesath knows her by name and asks her where she is going.

Hemesath speaks with a client while a homeless woman sits nearby.
Hemesath speaks with a client while a homeless woman sits nearby.

The woman says she is going to the gym, but instead decides to sit on the same bench.

Hemesath says she has attempted to help her in the past, but she has refused assistance.

“A lot of people don’t want to go to a shelter,” Hemesath said. “They don’t like the shelter rules and responsibilities associated with shelter life.”

Hemesath goes back to Bart and tells him he is welcome to go back to the place where he was living.

“If you prove to them that you are willing to work with them, they will work with you,” Hemesath tells Bart, encouraging him to talk to the mental health case manager at the facility he was living.

He did not say whether he would follow through on that.

During the outreach event, officers and service providers came in contact with 57 homeless people. Four agreed to be placed into emergency shelters. Hemesath will be working with two of them to transition to alcohol and drug treatment programs and will work with the others on their person-centered care plan. Ten other clients were scheduled for follow-up appointments with the service providers.

Additionally, Hemesath assisted four other clients. She helped get one a fee waiver so that he could get his driver’s license for free. She assisted one client in the application of CalFresh and Medi-Cal, and assisted another in applying for temporary cash assistance. Hemesath reconnected a fourth one with the Social Security office to review his disability claim.

“A lot of people encountering homelessness don’t know these resources are available,” Hemesath concluded. “The Homeless Outreach Team is always out. We are bringing the services to the people.”



José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact