OKC Police Connect With City's Homeless Population

Tuesday, November 18th 2014, 11:29 pm
By: News 9

The number of homeless children in the US is at an all-time high, and the Oklahoma City Police Department took action to help the homeless population.

"They're a godsend," said Edward, who lives among the city's homeless.

That's not usually what guys on the streets say about police officers.

"You know the only help I've ever gotten from a police officer was 'Watch your head' when you're getting in the car," he said.

Edward has had run-ins with police before. He got tangled up in drugs. His mother committed suicide. He just lost it mentally and didn't care anymore, but one day that changed.

"I hit my knees and gave it to God," he said. "The next day Clinton Garst showed up at my camp.

A police officer walked up to Edward's homeless camp.

"I think everybody always deserves another chance," Garst said.

So in addition to their patrolling duties, in April Sgt. Clinton Garst and MSgt. Paul Camacho took on the city's homeless population. The department was getting countless complaints from citizens and businesses about those living on the streets. By July 1, it became their official role, and the homeless outreach team was formed.

"Whether people realize it or not, they're already paying for it," Garst said. "So it would be better to pay for something that's actually going to help them to get back on their feet rather than paying through hospital visits which the public pays for and jail time."

Authorities said there are 54 homeless camps across the metro.

The officers connected homeless people with resources like food and shelter, but often times when they opened the trunks of the cruisers, they opened their hearts. A lot of the supplies and clothing came from their own pockets.

"What we're trying to do is mobilize that and redirect resources to help them get off the street and back on their feet," Garst said.

Since April, the unit made contact with about 1,500 homeless people and had 200 placements which helped patrol officers focus more on priority calls.