On November 18, Oceanside’s police department rolled out their new H.O.T. unit — their Homeless Outreach Team. The mission of the officers assigned to the H.O.T detail is to interact with the city's homeless and offer assistance.
On behalf of those who may not be able, the H.O.T. unit is trained to access the county’s social service and nonprofit agencies, County Mental Health, and Tri-City Medical Center. “At last we can assure we get them through the door to be seen,” said Lt. Karen Laser.
“It may be we drive them to the DMV to get a state ID card and then to the Social Security office to apply for benefits,” said Laser. “What’s that cost? A few hours of our time, and we just might get someone off the streets and back into society.”
Due to “a lot of psychological and drugs issues,” Laser said she recognizes about 30 percent of the homeless in the area don’t want assistance from the government, social service agencies, or the police.
As the downtown, beach, and harbor areas are part of Laser’s regular command, she communicates often with community and business groups about the homeless problem. Oceanside leaders recognize that homeless people walking around the streets don’t help the image of touristy downtown and the new hotels being built.
“They want to help, but they also don’t want the homeless to hurt their business,” Laser said. Many people think the homeless are bad people, Laser said, “But some homeless have just found themselves in a tough spot…. My hope is that we can redirect and educate the homeless.”
Officer Laser began researching the idea of a “proactive team” a year ago. She looked at San Diego Police Department’s H.O.T. operation, which has become a model for police agencies around the nation. With the support of her superiors, she petitioned city hall for funding. Two officers have been budgeted to work full time.