The Lacey Police Department may hire a professional to work with homeless individuals suffering with mental health issues, said Lacey Police Chief Robert Almada.
Almada addressed the Lacey City Council last week, providing updates on outreach efforts between the police department and people living in homeless camps set up along Interstate 5. Although the land adjacent to I-5 is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, an agreement between WSDOT and the city allows Lacey police to enforce laws on WSDOT property adjacent to Lacey.
“We feel, like a lot of our community, we just feel somewhat helpless on making the situation better, not only for our community but for these individuals that are trapped in this cycle,” said Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder to Almada. “… Is there anything that this city council can do, can provide you, can change an ordinance that can help this situation?”
Almada said police were looking toward hiring a mental health professional that can work in the field to build rapport and trust with individuals suffering from homelessness. Currently, two police officers and a service navigator working with the police stop by three homeless camps on a nearly daily basis.
Through building relationships with people there, a survey of 31 individuals found that 19 self-reported they suffered from mental health issues and 15 suffered from drug or alcohol addiction. Almada noted that many of the people reported suffering from both mental health and addiction issues.
Another possible aid for homeless people Almada mentioned was the establishment of a petty cash fund. Some individuals, he said, are homeless because they didn’t have the money to replace an ID card and therefore couldn’t get social services. Or, they couldn’t afford a phone to reach out to potential employers.
“Sometimes as little as 50 bucks or 30 bucks will help them keep out of homelessness,” said Almada, adding that he’s begun asking officials about the process of establishing the fund.
Almada also praised Terence Mitchell, the service navigator who goes with the police to speak with people in the camps. He said he would report more about work Mitchell was doing during a future meeting.
In early October, police conducted a survey of 31 people found living in the three homeless camps along I-5 in Lacey. They found that the largest age group was between 30 and 40. Fifteen people were living along Sleater-Kinney, 12 were at the 1-5 park and four were living by exit 109.
Officers offer assistance to people in the camps frequently, according to Almada. Although an initial survey found that a majority of the people declined assistance, many are steadily accepting services, he said. The services range from food and water to mental health and animal care.