El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department Mobilizes A Partnership and Service Approach to Addressing Homelessness
“Community Safety, Partners in Service” is the motto of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, and this fall I was able to witness first-hand how a small group of deputies lives this motto and mission every day.
The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is a mobile field force dedicated to working directly with homeless residents of El Dorado County to determine individualized service offerings to provide a lasting solution to end the cycle of homelessness. HOT Team members build relationships with unsheltered community members and facilitate family reunifications, treatment for substance-use disorder and transitions to permanent shelter. This service-oriented approach has proven successful for El Dorado County, where the HOT team has achieved a success rate of more than an 80 percent.
I met the members of the HOT team during a monthly “Trailer Day” where the team brings a customized trailer that converts into a mobile office for the county Behavioral Health and Mental Health Services units. County staff are able to meet with community members and provide onsite services “in the field.”
HOT team members are instantly recognizable as having a different primary function than other officers in the department. They wear black polos, not badges. Instead of handcuffs, these officers are equipped with friendly faces and an armful of resources to help reconnect homeless individuals with services, family, friends and housing.
“We’ve proven through history that you’re not going to arrest your way out of homelessness,” said El Dorado County Sheriff deputy and HOT Team member Jeramy Buckman. “So we are the boots on the ground working with the unsheltered homeless community, developing relationships and helping find ways to transition individuals out of the cycle of homelessness.”
Over five months, the El Dorado County’s mobile Trailer Days have grown to resemble something more like a community health fair than a law enforcement gathering. Various community resources and services were on hand offering support to the dozen or so participants I saw. A nurse from Marshall Hospital provided wound care, administered hepatitis A vaccines and flu shots. The Upper Room dining hall provided sandwiches and the Public Defender’s Office teamed up with the local Walmart to distribute blankets and free advice. There was even a mobile laundry facility provided by local non-profit The Lighted Candle, or TLC, on hand to help restore some dignity to the community members in attendance, one load at a time.
While these Trailer Days are new, El Dorado County’s commitment to serving the homeless community is not. Ron Sachs shared with me how he spearheaded homelessness outreach more than a decade ago through his organization, Job’s Shelters of the Sierra (JSS). JSS continues to provide essentials like clothing, sleeping bags, tents and more to individuals county-wide. The Trailer Days offer this community organization just one more avenue for partnership and service to the community.
And partnership is key to the HOT team’s success. While initially serving the unincorporated areas of El Dorado County, the HOT Team has recently expanded to include the Placerville Police Department in its efforts. Part of the HOT Team’s outreach includes detailed data collection like GPS mapping of encampments, abandoned vehicles and intervention tracking to better provide services and determine effectiveness. Reviewing this data over time revealed that a proportion of homeless individuals encountered by HOT migrated from unincorporated El Dorado County to the city of Placerville. Now, a Placerville police officer is part of the HOT Team to provide coordination and outreach. But even so, the HOT team has been able to reduce the unsheltered population in the El Dorado County by more than 80 percent since May 2017.
“There’s a sense of pride, and not just for me, but our whole department. We’re honored that our homeless population has accepted us, partnered with us and trusted us as law enforcement,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Buckman.