516 – Response to Persons Experiencing Homelessness

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Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that Department personnel understand the needs and rights of persons experiencing homelessness and to establish procedures to guide deputies during contacts with these individuals, whether consensual or for law enforcement purposes.

Definitions

Cite and Release – A programthat allows deputies to ticket low-level offenders instead of arresting them.

Community Outreach – The proactive engagement and interaction with persons experiencing homelessness, with the goal of connecting them with our community partners.

Community Partners – An organized group or organization designed to provide housing, nutrition, medical care, psychological care or vocational training to persons experiencing homelessness.

Homeless Population – For purposes of this policy, the terms “homelessness,” “homeless,” “homeless individual,” and “homeless person” shall refer to the following:

  1. An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
  2. An individual or family with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground);
  3. An individual or family living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by federal, state, or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing).

Policy

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is committed to responding to incidents involving persons experiencing homelessness with the foremost regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved. It is the Department’s policy to develop, implement, and incorporate policies, procedures, and strategies to enable Department members to safely resolve incidents involving persons experiencing homelessness without the use of force or arrest, whenever possible, and to refer homeless persons to community homeless service providers or other resources as appropriate. As always, the HCSO will not violate an individual’s constitutional rights.

An individual’s housing status is not a sufficient basis to justify a lawful detention or arrest.  All detentions and arrests must be based on applicable local, state, and federal laws.

Facilities and Resources

Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has full-time teams that proactively seek contact with persons experiencing homelessness. This effort is not designed to take enforcement action against these individuals but rather to inform them of the available social services and to encourage them in such services. [CALEA Standard 45.1.2, 45.2]

Each patrol district has a team assigned to that geographical area. Patrol deputies may contact the team assigned to their patrol district through Dispatch or by email at [email protected].

Houston Recovery Center

If intoxicated on any substance

Houston Recovery Center

150 North Chenevert Street

Suite 100

Houston, TX 77002

Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center

If diverting from jail for low-level offenses such as trespassing, minor theft of food because they are hungry, etc.

Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center

      6160 S Loop E Freeway

      Houston, TX 77087

Star of Hope Mission- Women and Family Emergency Shelter

Star of Hope-Women and Family Emergency Shelter

419 Dowling St.

Houston, TX 77002

713-222-2220

Star of Hope Mission- Doris and Carlos Morris Men’s Development Center

Star of Hope Mission- Doris and Carlos Morris Men’s Development Center

1811 Ruiz St.

Houston, TX 77002

713-227-8900

Star of Hope Mission for Women

Star of Hope Mission

2575 Reed Rd.

Houston, TX 77051

713-222-2220

Salvation Army- Men

Salvation Army- Men

1717 Congress

Houston, TX 77002

713-223-8889

Salvation Army- Women

Salvation Army- Women

1603 McGowen

Houston, TX 77002

713-650-6530

Procedures: Responding to Persons Experiencing Homelessness

Deputies are encouraged to contact persons experiencing homelessness for purposes of rendering aid, support, and for community-oriented policing purposes. Nothing in this policy is meant to dissuade a deputy from taking reasonable enforcement action when facts support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. However, when encountering a person experiencing homelessness who has committed a nonviolent misdemeanor, and continued freedom is not likely to result in a continuation of the offense or a breach of the peace, deputies are encouraged to consider long-term solutions to problems that may relate to these individuals, such as the Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center, NeuroPsychiatric Center, Cite and Release program, Houston Recovery Center, shelter referrals, and counseling in lieu of physical arrest.

Deputies should provide persons experiencing homelessness with resource and assistance information listed in the Facilities and Resources section above whenever it is reasonably apparent such services may be appropriate.

Deputies may transport persons experiencing homelessness to a shelter when the person accepts such a referral.  The individual will be searched for weapons and/or contraband before being transported.  Safety belts will be fastened and used as designed by the vehicle manufacturer before the vehicle is set in motion.

1.   Requests for Identification

Requests for identification made to a person experiencing homelessness shall be subject to the same legitimate law enforcement requirements as are applicable to such requests when made to any other person, but with sensitivity to the special needs and circumstances of the individual situation.

Requests or demands for identification shall be made only with good cause.  Requests for identification shall not be made pursuant to casual contact with persons experiencing homelessness.

When a person who appears to be experiencing homelessness is unable to produce a valid form of identification, the deputies shall not penalize the person for failing to produce the requested identification.

All persons’ subject to arrest or citation must be positively identified by deputies, whether or not a person can produce a valid identification.

Deputies may assist persons experiencing homelessness with obtaining an identification card by contacting the Homeless Outreach Team assigned to their patrol district through Dispatch or by email at the following address: [email protected]

2.   Personal Property

The personal property of persons experiencing homelessness must not be treated differently than the property of other members of the public. Deputies should use reasonable care when handling, collecting, and retaining the personal property of persons experiencing homelessness and should not destroy or discard the personal property. When a person experiencing homelessness is arrested or otherwise removed from a public place, deputies should make reasonable accommodations to permit the person to lawfully secure his/her personal property. Otherwise, the arrestee’s personal property should be collected for safekeeping.  [CALEA Standard 70.2.1]

Items which may be considered personal property include radio, small audio and video equipment, cell phones, medication, personal papers, photographs, books or other reading materials, luggage, backpacks, clothing, shoes, toiletries and cosmetics, clocks and watches, eye glasses, bed rolls and pillows (if not soiled with urine or fecal matter). 

Refuse or items which represent a health and safety hazard may be disposed of immediately.  Soiled items (food, urine, or fecal matter) and perishables will not be retained. Such items include, but are not limited to, paper refuse, food remains, empty glasses, bottles, or cans.  Towels, clothing, blankets and pillows soiled with urine, food or fecal matter will not be retained.  Deputies are not responsible for taking custody of mattresses.

Any property belonging to persons experiencing homelessness, that is removed for safekeeping purposes, discarded for health and safety reasons, and/or left at the scene due to size (mattresses, furniture, etc.) will be documented in an offense report.

3.   Animals

Persons experiencing homelessness often become very attached to their animals. If it is necessary to take an animal from a person experiencing homelessness, explain the reason for having to remove the animal and provide the person with information on how to retrieve his/her animal. Deputies removing any animal from a person experiencing homelessness will document this in an offense report.

Harris County Animal Control shall be contacted for situations involving the animals of persons experiencing homelessness through dispatch or directly at:

Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services (Animal Control)

612 Canino Rd.

Houston, TX 77076

281-999-2882 (Police Only)

4.   Cleanup

All homeless encampment cleanup operations will be coordinated through the Homeless Outreach Team. Deputies who encounter unattended encampments, bedding, or other personal property in public areas that reasonably appear to belong to a person experiencing homelessness, should not remove or destroy such property and should inform the Homeless Outreach Team if such property appears to involve a trespass, is a blight to the community, or is the subject of a complaint. [CALEA Standard 70.3.2]

5.   Ecological Issues

Sometimes homeless encampments can affect the ecology and natural resources of the community and may involve criminal offenses beyond mere littering. Deputies are encouraged to notify other appropriate agencies or departments when a significant impact to the environment has or is likely to occur. Significant impacts to the environment may warrant a crime report, investigation, supporting photographs and supervisor notification.

6.   Statistical Reporting

Homelessness is one of the most important criminal justice issues of our day. Two mandatory check boxes were added to the Superion RMS program for clearing all calls on the MDT (Superion release July 2020). These check boxes ask if the call involved anyone with a mental health issue and/or anyone who is experiencing homelessness.

Deputies not able to clear a call via the MDT (no access, equipment failure, etc.) may request dispatch to clear the call by disposition. In these situations, it is the deputy’s responsibility to provide information essential to closing out the call. This includes the answers to these two check boxes.

References

Department Policy

#513 – Mental Health Diversion Center

#511 – Responding to Individuals in Behavioral Crisis

#515 – Cite and Release

Patrol SOP

#209 – Clinician & Officer Remote Evaluation (CORE) Telehealth Program

#221 – Public Intoxication – Houston Center for Sobriety

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

March 25, 2021

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