The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station’s “three-prong approach” to the challenges of loitering, homelessness and the mental health aspect was presented at a meeting of the Marina Affairs Committee Sept. 21.

Marina Affairs is one of the committees of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce.

Capt. Oceal Victory of the Marina station told the audience that there are many challenges involved in loitering, homelessness and mental health issues in the Marina del Rey area, and that local business owners are directly affected.

When handling such challenges, the law enforcement perspective, the security needs of the business owners, and the mental health of transient and homeless individuals must all be taken into consideration, she said.

Victory told the audience that the meeting would be interactive, with attendees asked to view a video and give their opinions on how they would deal with the hypothetical situation presented.

Sgt. Ron Thrash of the community relations division and deputies Tahitia Crooks and Keith Harrison asked the audience members to pay close attention to the video scene of a “bag lady” at an outdoor table of a coffee shop.

The coffee shop owner had voluntarily given the bag lady a cup of coffee, expecting her to then move on. When she didn’t, the owner called the police and asked them to remove the bag lady from the premises.

During the scene, the woman had a cart with her belongings and a golf club in her hand. When the police officer approached her, she became agitated, pacing back and forth. The officer also paced back and forth, loudly telling her he needed to talk to her. She then became upset and raised the golf club in a threatening manner, and the officer then drew his gun.

At this point, the video was turned off, and the audience was asked what they would have done, if the situation could have been handled differently, and if the act of giving the woman coffee in the first place might have created the situation.

One audience member said he gives coffee and sometimes snacks to transients who enter his office in Marina del Rey because he feels it’s the “humane thing to do.” Representatives from two different hotels said they would not provide such a service because it encourages people to return.

Another speaker said transients are regularly outside her business, but she treats them with respect and courtesy, and most of the time they are cooperative. She noted that she received a Mother’s Day card from the regular transients.

The situation of the coffee shop owner giving the woman coffee was seen as encouragement, said Thrash. Asking the woman to leave was met with refusal and the business owner then had to call law enforcement to remove the woman from the property, he said.

In examining the hypothetical, Thrash pointed out that just because the woman had a cart with her and looked disheveled didn’t necessarily mean that she was homeless. He said the issue of mental health was raised, given that she became distraught so easily and threatened the officer.

Some other audience members noted the police officer who responded didn’t try to put the woman at ease, and was mimicking her back-and-forth pacing, making her feel more uncomfortable. His tone of voice was also very challenging to her, they said.

The fact that he drew a gun was considered by them to be an escalation of the incident that could have ended in someone being injured. Others felt that the officer was correct in the way he approached the “bag lady,” but also felt the gun being drawn was inappropriate.

Harrison said the job of the officer is to determine if a crime has been committed, such as trespassing. The fact that the woman was offered coffee made it more difficult to then ask her to leave, he said.

A second video was then shown to the committee that showed a police officer pulling over a man in a truck. The officer attempted numerous times to get the man to comply with his orders to lie down on the ground, to no avail. During the scene, the man was angry, shouted about being a veteran, and swore at the officer. The man finally went back to his truck, retrieved a rifle or shotgun, and returned to fatally shoot the officer several times.

In this actual case, the deputies noted that the officer should have responded earlier with the use of force, but didn’t and lost his life.

On Sept. 30, 2009, the Marina del Rey Homeless Outreach Team was initiated by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to discuss issues impacting the Marina, such as an increased homeless population and transients, which received resident and visitor complaints.

County officials said the decision was made to form a homeless outreach team to help chronically homeless individuals access necessary services, including permanent supportive housing.

The team consists of county employees from the Department of Mental Health Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement (HOME), Veterans and Military Affairs, and the Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with Beaches and Harbors.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, individuals from the county Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) — Claudia Upshur, a mental health counselor, and Randall Mullins, a medical caseworker with HOME —presented some information about the transient/homeless and mental health issues.

Upshur said that HOME is a county-wide field response unit consisting of teams of professional and para-professional staff dedicated to addressing the needs of the homeless mentally ill.

Mullins told the audience that while transients may appear homeless, some may be housed and have a fixed income. He said when he initially encounters transients he typically only gives his first name rather than a title, which might be confusing or threatening to an individual. He also asks the individuals their first name, and attempts to engage them on a personal level.

“We respond to business owners that tell us transients are hanging around. Some of these individuals are mute, or have hearing or speaking problems, and may be unable to communicate,” said Mullins.

He said that a hygiene kit consisting of water, socks and other supplies is also given to the homeless individuals.

In cases where the transient is “medically compromised,” said Upshur, the Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams (PMRT) emphasize a coordinated approach with the mental health system of care in order to provide local communities with a range of psychiatric services and case management services.

The service components include outreach, assessment and treatment, crisis intervention, consultation, referral and follow-up, psychiatry consultation and medication stabilization, and evaluation of children and adults for civil commitment to acute inpatient psychiatric care.

“Some we deal with on an ongoing basis; they hear voices, have alcohol or drug issues, and mental issues. When you call us, you want action, such as having a person removed from the premises. We engage with the client, try to get them to verbalize and to accept medical benefits, and take them to apply for food stamps or assist in finding temporary housing,” said Upshur.

She noted that many transients or homeless people don’t have a birth certificate or identification, and that the agency assists them, as well as directs people to legal aid if they’ve received tickets for jaywalking or other incidents.

“If an illegal act has occurred, I can call the sheriff’s department or Los Angeles Police Department, and if a person meets the legal criteria for hospitalization against their will, such as presenting ‘a clear and present danger to themselves or someone else’ they will be hospitalized,” she said.

The Adult System of Care Veteran Outreach Program provides benefit establishment, employment and education assistance, peer support, collaboration with other veteran service organizations, referral for children and family support, and housing for the homeless, said Upshur.

The Full Service Partnerships (FSP) is a program of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. The program is for adults aged 26 to 59 who would benefit from an intensive service program for those diagnosed with mental illness who would like to work in partnership with a service provider team to develop and achieve individualized recovery-focused goals, said Upshur.

Debbie Talbot of the Beaches and Harbors Community and Marketing Services Division, said that Marina del Rey is identified as Area 5 by the Department of Mental Health, and the Field Response Operations representative is medical case worker II, Darryl Everage. If anyone notices homeless individuals in Marina del Rey, and would like Everage to respond for assistance, his contact information is (310) 482-3260, or deverage@dmh.lacounty.gov.

LACDMH (HOME) information, (213) 480-3480. HOME’s Access 24/7 hotline is (800) 854-7771.

Adult System of Care Veteran Outreach Program information, (213) 639-6319.

City of Santa Monica Homeless Services Referral Guide,www.smgov.net/homeless.

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