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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

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PPB's Homeless Liaison

 

"Historically, law enforcement hasn't played the role of doing outreach and connecting people with resources. We as a police agency do a very good job helping people on the street get connected to resources if they're interested in getting resources. This position is important because it allows the police bureau to have somebody to respond to what are we doing as a city as a whole and as a county as a whole, and to be able to be the representative for the Portland Police Bureau and be able to have that information at the ready for things like policy changes internally or training needs." - Stephanie Herro

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Transcript:

 

Announcer:
Welcome to Talking Beat, the podcast for the Portland Police Bureau. We're focusing on thoughtful conversations that we hope will inform and provide you with a small glimpse of work performed by Portland police officers as well as issues affecting public safety in our city. Here's what's on today's show.

Stephanie Herro:
Historically, law enforcement hasn't played the role of doing outreach and connecting people with resources. We as a police agency do a very good job helping people on the street get connected to resources if they're interested in getting resources. This position is important because it allows the police bureau to have somebody to respond to what are we doing as a city as a whole and as a county as a whole, and to be able to be the representative for the Portland Police Bureau and be able to have that information at the ready for things like policy changes internally or training needs.

Host:
On today's show, we're talking to Stephanie Herro. Stephanie is the Portland Police Bureau's homeless liaison. This is a new position that was created in the 2018/2019 budget. Stephanie officially started in August 2019 and this is our first opportunity to sit down and talk to her about this position, what it's about and what the future holds.

Host:
Welcome Stephanie.

Stephanie Herro:
Hi. Thank you for having me.

Host:
Well, let's start with the basics. What exactly was this position? What are you supposed to be doing?

Stephanie Herro:
The job description when I saw it posted was really broad and so I came into a really broad description of what this position was to look like, which has been great because I've been able to sort of figure out what this is going to look like in the best interests of both the bureau and our community partners. There's definitely a piece of understanding and knowing the systems, so the homeless services system where PPB falls and what PPB's role is in the overall service delivery system and the response to homelessness throughout the city.

Stephanie Herro:
There's also a component of this position that I'll be working on throughout the year around training. I'll be developing some training internally and externally and that was part of the job description as well. And really I foresee that this position will have the opportunity to sit at the table in places where it doesn't necessarily need to be somebody in uniform or a ranking member of the police bureau. So I can literally be a liaison between the police bureau and various agencies throughout the city.

Host:
You've been here since August and you've been able to get your feet wet. The police bureau has a steep learning curve. Let's talk about what you've been doing.

Stephanie Herro:
Since I started it's been a big undertaking to learn all of the systems that are at play, including the police bureau. In the time that I've been here I've spent a good amount of my time meeting with community partners, social service agencies, other government agencies, trying to get to know the bureau internally, which can be a bit of a challenge considering it's such a large agency with three separate precincts. So finding time to spend in each of the three precincts and making sure people are seeing my face and knowing what I'm doing here as best as I can, in addition to meeting with other social service agencies to really get a lay of the land for who's out here doing the work, whether it's from a police bureau and government agency or from the social service agencies who are doing the outreach work out in the field.

Stephanie Herro:
I've spent a lot of time going around meeting with folks, trying to get my face in front of people and trying to help people understand a little bit about what I'm doing.

Host:
You talked about talking with some of our partners and making those relationships. Who are the partners and who's involved in I guess working with some of the issues related to homelessness?

Stephanie Herro:
The City of Portland has a large number of social service agencies and faith based organizations that are working diligently on the homeless challenges. They're all out there doing really great work in terms of getting people connected to resources and fund them the help that they need. The city itself developed the Homeless Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, also known as HUCIRP an acronym.

Stephanie Herro:
So for the city's response, HUCIRP was sort of the frontline or the beginning of the process for anybody who has a concern about camping in their neighborhood or if they see somebody in need who's lying on the ground. Obviously some of those, if there's an emergent element to it or if it feels like somebody is in danger 911 one would be the appropriate place to call. However, if it's a concern about a camp or a tent or property that's been left behind, HUCIRP is really the city's response for community members to be able to report concerns to the city.

Stephanie Herro:
And then HUCIRP works with the police bureau in certain capacities. There is a bit of a misconception that the police bureau are the ones who are doing the cleanups in the city, when actually HUCIRP has their own process and contractors with Rapid Response to activate into these campsites. They work with social service agencies to help people in the campsites get help that they need and connected to resources prior to any kind of cleaning of property. HUCIRP also maintains property for people while the cleanup process is happening. And they have a whole website and great video around the way that that process works.

Stephanie Herro:
For PPB's role in that, we as an agency, police officers are often asked to stand by on some of those cleanups to ensure safety of everybody who's there, including the people who are experiencing homelessness and the city contracted workers. You will see that to varying degrees throughout the city depending on what the resources are for the police bureau.

Stephanie Herro:
When PPB is working with HUCIRP and Rapid Response around the cleanups, they're also working to help people get connected. We have several stories from our neighborhood response team officers specifically who have really good relationships with people who are experiencing homelessness, and good stories around getting people connected to housing or to other support services they need through the relationships the neighborhood response team.

Stephanie Herro:
So while from the HUCIRP side or the Rapid Response cleanup crew side, we may be there to help keep everybody safe, there's also a significant portion of that work through our neighborhood response teams that people are being connected to services that they may need.

Stephanie Herro:
In addition to being on site for the safety of everyone during the cleanup process, sometimes PPB comes across a criminal nexus that's occurring inside the campsites and when that is occurring, the Portland Police Bureau is responsible for acting on those criminal activities just like they would if they were outside of a campsite. So that means that sometimes there are also arrests that are happening or there's evidence is found in campsites and the police bureau will respond to those the same they would in any other part of the community.

Host:
Understandably, there's community members who might see an illegal camp or something that they want to report, and of course they want to call 911. That's what we're trained to do is as community members. But it sounds like what you're saying is HUCIRP or one point of contact is really the way to go for the appropriate triage or the appropriate services to be sent out.

Stephanie Herro:
When there's an obvious crime or emergency situation happening within a campsite, on a sidewalk, anywhere in the city, camp related or otherwise, 911 is the appropriate place to call. If somebody is concerned about a longterm camp site that isn't presenting any sort of danger to the neighbors or the people in the camps themselves or surrounding property, then that is a good opportunity to use the HUCIRP process.

Stephanie Herro:
To contact HUCIRP to make a report of a camp site, community members can go to pdx-reporter.org, portlandoregon.gov/campsites or they can call (503) 823-4000.

Host:
Why do you think the police bureau needs this position?

Stephanie Herro:
I think that the police bureau will be a part of the response to homelessness in a variety of capacities one way or the other. There are a lot of people in the city who have really strong feelings about the police bureau's role in either side and in two different directions. There are a lot of people on our streets who are suffering on a regular basis who have really significant needs and the police bureau often is the first responder to those folks who are really in need and are in crisis on our streets.

Stephanie Herro:
Historically, law enforcement hasn't played the role of doing outreach and connecting people with resources. We as a police agency do a very good job helping people on the street get connected to resources if they're interested in getting resources.

Stephanie Herro:
I think this position is important because it allows the police bureau to have somebody to respond to partnering agencies and government agencies who have concerns or questions or needs from the police bureau around the homelessness crisis. It also allows me to be involved in larger systemic and government conversations around what are we doing as a city as a whole and as a county as a whole, and to be able to be the representative for the Portland Police Bureau and be able to have that information at the ready for things like policy changes internally or training needs.

Host:
So in an ideal world, if the police bureau didn't have its current staffing shortage, what would be the ideal approach or what would you like to see us doing that we're not doing?

Stephanie Herro:
First I want to talk about what we are doing, because I think it's important to talk about the fact that we have a behavioral health unit and behavioral health response teams that a police officer are paired with a clinician who follow up on calls where there was a mental health concern or a mental health crisis. And we have a robust team of enhanced crisis response officers as well throughout the city.

Stephanie Herro:
In addition to that, we have the service coordination team, which helps people get into housing through the police bureau's programming. And we also have the neighborhood response teams in all three precincts.

Stephanie Herro:
In central precinct we have officers who are dedicated specifically to working with people who are experiencing homelessness. That is a fantastic model because it allows the police bureau to develop relationships. When those officers can focus specifically on this population in a small geographical area, they really get to know the folks who are out here experiencing homelessness and develop those relationships.

Stephanie Herro:
So it helps with trust-building. It helps the police bureau be able to get people connected to housing or a substance use disorder treatment or mental health treatment or food or a shelter bed because the police bureau, those officers have those relationships not only with the people who are experiencing homelessness but also the social service agencies who are providing those services. And they can simply call somebody up that they know because they have the relationship and get people connected in a relatively fast way.

Stephanie Herro:
Ideally, if we didn't have the staffing shortages we have, I would love to have a much larger homeless outreach team of officers who are paired with an outreach worker. Across the country that is best practice right now for law enforcement agencies who are responding to homelessness, is to have teams of dedicated officers who work closely with outreach workers and can develop those relationships throughout the city so that people can get connected to the help that they need.

Host:
As a police agency more and more we're relying on data and going to a more data-driven model and especially given our staffing shortages. What kind of data do we actually have about those experiencing homeless in our community?

Stephanie Herro:
To date we as a police agency do not track housing status for anybody with whom we come in contact. What becomes challenging is that this population can be fluid in their movement. So if we come across somebody who gives us an address one day, that may be a different address the next day, depending on where they're laying their head at night, depending on if they're using a shelter for an address. We have the ability to ask people, "Do you consider yourself to be homeless?" And even when we have that ability to ask that question and if we get that answer, we currently don't have a way to collect that data.

Stephanie Herro:
And it gets a little tricky because we don't want to collect data on individuals. We want to sort of look at contact numbers for data versus collecting and labeling individuals based on their housing status. And that can get a little tricky in the way we do our report writing for the police agency. So I am participating in larger citywide conversations on how do we define homelessness for data collection purposes. And then as multiple bureaus, how do we work together to start collecting meaningful data and information on who we're coming into contact with in this population.

Stephanie Herro:
For the police bureau, we would like to say that we're only coming into contact with people when there is a criminal nexus that's occurring, but we know that that's not true. We know that the police are often the first responders to a lot of things that don't have a criminal nexus. And so it would be important I think, and useful for us to have the information about people's housing status or even less so about the person and more so about the number of contacts we're having with this particular population. It gets really challenging when it comes down to even defining what does it mean to be homeless.

Host:
What are some of the challenges in your new role that you've faced?

Stephanie Herro:
I think the biggest challenge and/or barrier has been that there are some people or some organizations in the city who have really strong feelings about the Portland Police Bureau and law enforcement in general. And there is often an assumption that because I'm an employee of the police bureau, that I am also a police officer. I do have some law enforcement experience in my background, but the large majority of my life has been spent working in behavioral health and the aging system. So most of my lens and the way that I look at things is from a social service's perspective and not a law enforcement perspective. I think that it's important for people to understand that, even though I sit in this building in downtown Portland and I work closely with law enforcement, I also come from a perspective of social services, equity and behavioral health.

Host:
You mentioned earlier training as something you're looking at. What kind of training are you talking about?

Stephanie Herro:
I'm in the process of determining and assessing what the needs are, both internally in the police bureau for police officers around potential training needs. In addition to that, also looking at developing some training for community partners around the police bureau's role in the homelessness crisis in the city.

Host:
So before we end this podcast, we embrace our stereotypes here at the Portland Police Bureau. So I know you're not an officer, but Stephanie, what is your favorite donut?

Stephanie Herro:
Believe it or not, I'm not a big donut eater, but if I had to eat a donut, I would eat a relatively plain, just glazed doughnut. I don't need it to be fancy.

Host:
Where can we find you Stephanie? Are you on social media?

Stephanie Herro:
I am. I have a Twitter account @homelessliaison. It's difficult though; liaison is spelled L-I-A-I-S-O-N. It has an extra I. So @homelessliaison.

Host:
And we'll put that as well as the other information that we talked about in our podcast notes. Thanks for being here today.

Stephanie Herro:
Thank you.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to the Talking Beat.

Announcer:
Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave us a message on our dedicated voicemail line at (971) 339-8868 or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov.

Announcer:
If you've enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website, portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast.