You can also click HERE to check out some behind-the-scenes images and a 'Backstory' about our adventure in Oklahoma CIty in the summer of 2017. We were honored to be introduced to some of those in the homeless communities by two OKC PD officers from the 'Homeless Outreach Team', and capture the portraits and stories of a handful of wonderful individuals.
"I am Sergeant Bobby and I have been on the "HOT Team" (Homeless Outreach Team) for a little over two years with the Oklahoma City Police Department. The "HOT Team" works with the city’s homeless population, trying to connect them with housing and other services…in hopes of getting them off the street. Especially now with it being so hot, we also deliver water and other necessities, such as food, to those in need.
I was the third member. It started out with two officers and then I filled in for one of the sergeants that was leaving. Being on the "HOT Team" wasn't necessarily something I aspired to do, but, well, I was probably recognized more as just a compassionate officer. At the time, I was on day shift bikes out of OKC's Bricktown and we were still stationed out of Bricktown and since I was already kind of inside the division, it made it a lot easier to make the transfer. They asked me if I was willing to do it, so it all came through pretty quick and I went over and started the next week.
My dreams going forward to help the homeless are that I’d like to see OKC PD add more officers to the HOT Team to provide more help and assistance throughout each day. They’re kind of discussing doing a second shift, so there’d be some coverage from like 3-11 p.m. at night. So the original way this was set up, we can adjust our hours a little bit, but we typically work from 7-3 a.m., that’s kind of when, well for one, we find people in their camps when we come in at 7. And then also social services will be available at that time. You know, if they need to go to social security, if they need to go to the homeless alliance or anything like that, we can try and help them get to those locations. With the second shift, they’d be able to get in the camps in the evening time, when people are starting to lay down, or find people where they’re sleeping at at night. So I think the next step would be maybe a couple officers on second shift.
Our community is compassionate and I do think it helps a lot for our citizens to see the police force having a heart. We’re kind of known for the "Oklahoma Standard." I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that or not, but…. OKC is no stranger to tragedy, obviously - we’ve had the Murrah Federal Building bombing in the 90s, really big storms to deal with, and locally people have always come through. They’ve always shown their colors, as compassionate people and giving people. For the most part our community is supportive of the "Hot Team" and they’re also very compassionate towards the homeless and that is reflected in the many services and programs that are available to help them. Plus, the money that’s raised to help the homeless every year is just phenomenal for what we do.
I would like to advise other communities trying to help the homeless and those in need in their communities to not give up. You know, sometimes you’ll run across people and they’re very content with their situation. I think that was the hardest lesson for me to learn coming over here. You find a homeless veteran in the woods and you know the VA has a place for them to stay that night, they don’t have to live in the woods, but for whatever reason you can’t get them to make that change. You’ve kind of got to understand that it’s a lifestyle and when they are ready for help and ready to make a change, as a community you have to be ready to help them out. Ultimately, I think everybody always deserves another chance."
The purpose of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is to ensure OCPD remains sensitive to the unique needs of the homeless population while responding to the concerns of the greater community. HOT works with homeless individuals linking them with valuable social services to improve their living conditions thereby improving public safety.
Their mission is to impact the homeless community through positive police contact and community partnerships with the ultimate purpose of altering the homeless person’s perspective on life, and potential for getting needed services and assistance. The Homeless Outreach Team serves the community by coordinating efforts between law enforcement, local, state and private agencies that provide services to at risk homeless in the City who are living on the streets and considered 'Chronically Homeless'.