We leave cops all the dirty jobs the rest of society doesn’t want to do. That means dealing with the mentally ill, dealing with teenagers, and dealing with the homeless.
We don’t give them resources or training for it, but we figure cops do get paid.
But we do know that there’s no point in arresting the homeless. It’s very expensive, it can cause actually dangerous people to be squeezed out of jail, and afterwards, there’s really no place to release them to. On the other hand, there are things we can’t let homeless people – or anybody else – do in public.
Los Angeles has a program called HALO, which refers arrested homeless people to the city’s Department of Mental Health. Treatment can range from three months to six months, but at the end of it police might not have to keep arresting the same homeless people over and over again.
Portland police are under a federal court order to improve their treatment of the mentally ill, and there’s a considerable overlap between that group and the homeless population. But if we want police to do the job better, we need to give them better tools.
The one thing we’ve learned about homelessness is that we can’t just say it’s the cops’ problem.
NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 9/24/15.