The City of Arcadia expends a substantial amount of time and public safety resources responding to and assisting individuals experiencing homelessness. The Arcadia Police Department (APD), Arcadia Fire Department (AFD), and the Public Works Services Department (PWSD) have been tracking homeless-related calls for service for about one year.
The homeless-related calls for service data shown below demonstrate what a vital role public safety services play in responding to individuals experiencing homelessness. With the number of individuals experiencing homelessness rising in Arcadia, the City projects that calls for service and costs will also increase. As the City navigates the current homeless problem together with all stakeholders, including residents and business owners, the City will continue to meet the service needs of the community and work toward preserving the exceptional quality of life in Arcadia.
In total, calls for service involving individuals experiencing homelessness have cost the City approximately $567,970 over the past year. The majority of these costs (75%) are Fire Department costs for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) with transport being the most significant cost driver. The majority of the costs ($540,923 or 95%) are supported by the City’s General Fund with the balance of $27,047 or 5% for Homeless Resource Hub Fire Paramedic assistance and PWSD homeless-related services which are supported by the Homeless Plan Implementation Grant. Although the City is financially responsible for advancing payment for these costs, funds are reimbursed to the City on a quarterly basis.
Police Calls for Service
On a daily basis, calls for service come into the Arcadia Police Department requesting officers to respond to individuals who are homeless, possibly suffering from a mental illness, are under the influence, or a combination of all three. The calls range from suspicious subjects loitering or sleeping at the front of a business or private property, disturbances associated with drinking in public, noise complaints, assaults, thefts, and, at times, suicidal ideation.
Over the past 11 months, from July 2020 through May 2021, the Arcadia Police Department spent a total of 1,837 hours responding to 2,605 calls for services involving individuals experiencing homelessness, the equivalent of one full-time police officer being dedicated to responding to the homeless community. Overall, this represents 5.8% of the Department’s total calls for service during this time period (45,115). As a result of these calls for service, the Police Department generated 114 cases of which 64 involved arrests of individuals experiencing homelessness. Officers and Detectives also spent an additional 178 hours on follow-up activities and investigations. The total cost to the City was $131,823, which is almost the same cost as one year of salary and benefits for an entry-level Police Officer.
What are Homeless-Related Calls for Service?
When the Arcadia Police Department receives calls for service related to individuals experiencing homelessness, they come in as an initial call type, and later the Officer identifies a final call type according to the circumstances of the situation. Over the course of the past 11 months, the Police Department responded to 2,605 calls for service, which involved one or more individuals experiencing homelessness. Of these incidents, the table below shows the top 10 final call types, which mainly included calls about someone reporting a homeless person or transient in the area (2,009). The words “homeless person” and “transient” are often used interchangeably by callers and Dispatch documents the call according to the description provided at the time of the call. For the purposes of this review, call types regarding homeless encounters and transients are combined for simplicity. Overall, the final call type is determined by an officer, and when they determine a call was something more significant than a homeless or transient encounter, the officer codes the call accordingly. Over the past 11 months, 596 (22.9%) of the calls for service involving a homeless person were calls regarding other possible criminal or civil issues.
Here are some common examples of what a homeless-related call for service may entail:
Sleeping/Camping on private property. The reporting party wants the individual experiencing homelessness to move along. Typically, the campers are compliant and will leave the area.
Homeless individual causing a disturbance. In certain cases, the officer finds that the homeless individual is soliciting money.
Homeless individual is committing a crime. In certain cases, the homeless person is reported to be stealing, drinking in public, using drugs in public, fighting, littering, defecating/urinating in public, amongst other illegal activities.
In most cases, whenever possible, police officers make contact with all involved parties, assess the situation, and determine the best course of action. Some options include utilizing:
- Verbal communication;
- Providing City, County and/or State resources where appropriate;
- Utilizing mental health clinicians/facilities when appropriate;
- Education of the Arcadia Municipal Code, Fire Code, and State Laws;
- Issuing verbal warning of aforementioned Codes and Laws;
- Issuing citations; and
- Making arrests related to violations of the law.
Fire Department Calls for Service
The Arcadia Fire Department (AFD) provides Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to individuals experiencing homelessness. Over the past 13 months, AFD has responded to 230 EMS calls involving individuals experiencing homelessness of which 151 required EMS with transport to local area hospitals for a total cost to the City of $377,500 (average cost per EMS response with transport is $2,500). In other words, 66% of homeless-related EMS calls required additional medical services. For the 79 instances (34% of homeless-related EMS calls) where homeless individuals were stabilized in the field or declined transport, the time spent in the field by AFD personnel varied according to the individual’s treatment needs.
The average cost per EMS response without transport is approximately $400; however, the cost has ranged from an average of about $300 to $630 per incident. The total cost spent on non-transport EMS response was approximately $31,600, which is based on an average rate of $400 per incident. On a broader scale, AFD responded to 5,331 EMS calls over this time period (EMS with and without transport) and of these calls, 230 or 4.3% were for individuals experiencing homelessness. These calls alone cost the City $409,100, all of which are paid for from the City's General Fund.
Over the past 13 months, AFD also provided 207 hours of paramedic assistance to the Arcadia Homeless Resource Hub (HRH), which cost the City approximately $17,802 in personnel costs. In 2020, the City received a state-funded grant from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government called the Homeless Plan Implementation Grant. A portion of the grant ($40,000) covers First Responder Outreach, which the City is currently using to pay for AFDs cost to service this program at the HRH.
The paramedic assistance at the HRH provides first aid such as changing or dressing wounds, checking vital signs, and assisting in the logistical needs of the HRH such as the setup and break down of weekly HRH facilities and infrastructure. Some individuals may require basic health counseling/consultation regarding their medication needs and recommendations were given to visit a primary care physician (PCP). In cases where individuals did not have a PCP, AFD personnel connected them to the necessary resources such as a Union Station case manager at the HRH. In other instances, AFD referred individuals to emergency personnel for EMS transport due to exigent medical conditions.
There were also instances where AFD personnel helped diffuse situations in which an individual experiencing homelessness was potentially upset over a personal problem, and staff was also present to spend time socializing, relating, and building trust and relationships with individuals experiencing homelessness. Overall, AFD’s presence at the HRH has helped continue to strengthen inter-department relationships through this collaborative project, provide a public safety presence, and familiarity for support staff and individuals experiencing homelessness. AFD will continue to provide services at HRH for the duration of the program.
Public Works Services Department Calls for Service
Homeless-related calls for service often require involvement from the Public Works Services Department (PWSD) when assistance is needed to clean-up an encampment or clear debris. Over the past year, a total of 36 PWSD staff members provided services at 10 incidents, which required 152 hours of personnel time. Maintenance workers and equipment operators are the most common type of personnel used to provide assistance; however, some cases can require work from Building Services and Engineering divisions. Overall, the total cost to the City over the past year was approximately $9,245 which are paid for through the Homeless Plan Implementation Grant ($20,000) for homeless-related encampment clean-ups through Fiscal Year 2020-21.
When PWSD personnel respond to encampment sites to help clear debris, a large volume of items are often collected. For example, when items were cleared from an encampment site at 2nd Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in May 2021, PWSD collected eight trucks of miscellaneous items such as mattresses, dressers, and other furniture pieces, storage containers, a barbecue, and a vacuum, among other items. APD and PWSD are both responsible for cataloging the items, and PWSD is responsible for storing the items at the Public Works Service Center. The amount of space taken up depends on how many items require storage. Individuals experiencing homelessness are also given the opportunity to retrieve their items later; however, storage time is limited to 90 days.
Homeless Engagement and Liaison Program (HELP) Team
In 2016, the Arcadia Police Department observed an increase in individuals experiencing homelessness in Arcadia, and responded by establishing the Homeless Engagement and Liaison Program (HELP), also known as the HELP Team. The Mission of the HELP Team is to, “Improve the quality of life in the City of Arcadia by reaching out to the homeless community and providing information, resources, and motivation with the ultimate goal of finding an alternative to life on the streets.” The current HELP Team is managed by one Lieutenant and one Sergeant who oversee the Team’s daily activities. The Team is comprised of six Police Officers who work together to:
- Provide assistance to individuals experiencing homelessness in Arcadia. Assistance can range from providing literature regarding local homeless shelters and resource programs, helping connect people with family members, making direct contact with LA County resources such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, mental health clinicians, and other social services, and provide basic needs in situations involving emergent circumstances (such as a dire need for housing, food, and or clothing).
- Track individuals experiencing homelessness in Arcadia.
- Coordinate with all Arcadia and LA County resources to resolve any matters related to homelessness.
- Provide education to individuals experiencing homelessness and businesses/residents in relation to available resources, and any crimes/violations associated with homeless activities and encampments.
- Follow-up on tips, complaints, or any information communicated to the Arcadia Police Department that is related to homelessness.
The HELP Team developed an Information Card that is given to individuals experiencing homelessness. One side lists available resources and phone numbers, while the other side educates the homeless on Arcadia laws for public places. On average, Officers working a HELP detail contact 10-15 homeless individuals during an approximate 8-hour shift. Currently, the HELP Team is working on developing methods for tracking their activities and interactions with the homeless community.
Help Team Photo 1
Help Team Photo 2
When the HELP Team approaches an individual experiencing homelessness, the primary goal is to get the individual connected to programs and services that will help the person get into housing. The HELP Team works with Union Station and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to assist with providing housing alternatives and resources to those individuals.
Typically, a police officer will obtain contact information for the individual and then offer to connect the person with resources or make a referral to Union Station or LAHSA. If the individual accepts the assistance, then a referral is generated with those resources. The officer makes every attempt to make contact with a case manager during normal business hours so the case manager can continue the next step in the process. If the individual declines assistance, they are still provided information about other resources available to them.
Currently, the Arcadia Homeless Resource Hub is the only location in the City that offers individuals the opportunity to shower, charge their electronic devices, wash their clothes, and nutrition, among other services.
LA Times Article on Reasons for Fewer Shelter Beds
KTLA5 Article on Homelessness Crisis
What Keeps Homeless Individuals Out of Shelters
Myths Related to Homelessness
Department of Social Services Information on Project RoomKey
Myths v. Facts on Homelessness
All homeless are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or are mentally ill.
Although police officers come into contact with individuals experiencing homelessness who are either under the influence at the time of contact, are known to have a drug problem, or suffer from mental illness, or a combination of all three, not all individuals experiencing homelessness individuals fit these criteria. There are individuals who do not have these issues and are homeless as a result of other factors.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, only 30% of people experiencing homelessness claim to suffer from mental illness, and only 23% report substance abuse issues. Since there is some crossover there (people can answer yes to both questions), it’s fair to assume that a majority of people experiencing homelessness are neither mentally ill nor drug addicts.
If the homeless had housing, there would be no homeless on the street.
Although housing is a key component to battling homelessness, police officers hear from individuals experiencing homelessness that they would rather remain on the street than have to adhere to the rules and regulations associated with housing options available. Specifically, homeless individuals have stated to officers that they are against curfews and anti-alcohol/drug policies.
Only certain types of people are homeless.
One thing is for sure, homelessness does not discriminate. People from all walks of life can become homeless. It has no regard for age, race, or gender. Various and complex life situations and circumstances have led individuals to experience homelessness.
Substance Abuse and Homelessness by the National Coalition for the Homeless
The Connection Between Homelessness and Addiction
Myths and Facts Related to the Homeless by the Coalition for the Homeless
Homelessness and How It Can Happen
Homelessness Does Not Discriminate
Homelessness and Coronavirus Unemployment by the LA Times