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La Mesa Police see success in first year of homeless pilot program

Posted at 8:43 AM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 11:43:54-05

LA MESA, Calif. (KGTV) - The office for Matthew Smiley for the better part of a year is the driver seat of a van.

Smiley has been driving around to different homeless encampments working for the La Mesa Police Department's HOME Program.

"While we're stabilizing someone in place, the long-term goal is always to get someone into housing,” Smiley said.

La Mesa Police started the two-year pilot program last November.

LMPD Capt. Matt Nicholass, who oversees the program, said the goal is to provide services for the homeless and getting a roof over their heads when the department received non-emergency calls regarding the homeless.

"Now, instead of the police department just having police officers respond out there and engage with the individuals and look at criminal violations, we're taking a humanistic approach, doing our best to get them the help that they need initially,” Nicholass said.

While it may start with giving food and clothes to people, it can lead to getting these homeless individuals in touch with mental and physical health and housing resources.

"These are very big interactions. These are trust building. The science has shown that one day I'm going to walk over there and we're going to discuss housing and they're going to be ready to go,” Smiley said.

Nicholass told ABC 10News, in the first year, the program's been able to get 57 people off the street and into housing.

One of the biggest success stories to Smiley is at Collier Park.

"Ninety percent of the people that moved out of this park moved into a permanent house,” Smiley said.

The department said at the start of this month, the HOME Program will be 100 percent run in-house and have two full-time staff members after PATH, a homeless advocacy group, partnered with and assisted them in year one.

As La Mesa looks ahead to drive the program forward in year two, there's something that continues to be an issue.

"You could have 20 of me running around La Mesa but, if there's no affordable housing for people to go and there's no wrap-around services, no amount of outreach can fix that,” Smiley said.

The department told ABC 10News there's enough grant money to fund the HOME Program for up to five years.

La Mesa Police hopes there can be work done to extend the funding and eventually making it permanent.