How an outreach team of officers are helping the homeless rather than locking them up
In Houston, police sergeant Steve Wick is busy at work, riding his bicycle around the city and stopping to talk to the homeless people he meets along the way. But rather than arresting them, Wicks has a very special role: supporting people on the streets to re-build their lives.
In the past, only the penal code was used to deal with homeless people, who are often considered a problem by local residents. Anyone drunk on a sidewalk would be taken into custody and released just a few hours later to do the same thing over and over again. It was a huge waste of time and resources, and a policy which did absolutely nothing to help homeless people in the long term. Now, compassionate policing policies aim to give homeless people a helping hand, rather than a criminal record. Houston Police Department’s outreach team partners with hundreds of outreach programs to provide housing, healthcare, jobs, food and ID cards to homeless people.
“You’ve got to be called to do this police work,” says Wick, who comes across as a genuinely kind and compassionate man. “These are people who need somebody to talk to, somebody who cares about them, to become their advocate and help them get off the street.”
The initiative was started four years ago by Wick himself, who became “disgusted” with the red tape prohibiting him from making any positive change for the people he met on a daily basis. After making some phone calls, he managed to find housing for a mother and daughter who had been living on a bench up until that point. The rest, as they say, is history. The outreach team now includes four officers and three mental health workers, and they have placed over 400 people in temporary and permanent housing since 2010.
“We’re not the answer: I wish we were. We’re the toolbox to do something about the problem,” Wicks says modestly. “This is just another kind of police work, and it feels great to help people.” Wick has been patrolling downtown Houston since 1994 and says he really cares about the homeless population in the city, many of whom have become “like an extended family” to him. One homeless man demonstrates the (heart-breaking) truth of this when he says: “I have two friends in life. One is Mr Wick, the other is my cat.”
While some cynics might argue that this short documentary by Nationswell is nothing more than police propaganda, it’s an undeniable fact that initiatives like this are making a real difference- thanks to Wick, one man was given the opportunity to go get a degree in engineering. For that reason alone, progressive policing should be applauded by all of us who care about human rights, poverty and giving the homeless a helping hand. This is proof that not all men in uniform are there to oppress!