Aug 18, 2014
Police often are the first (and sometimes the only) point of government contact for persons experiencing homelessness (PEH). Police responses have shifted to approaches designed to foster positive relationships with PEH, help assess the individual needs of each person or area, and guide homeless or unsheltered individuals to the services they require. A panel of experts identified ways to address related challenges.
Police often are the first (and sometimes the only) point of government contact for persons experiencing homelessness (PEH). Although it has been common for police to rely on traditional law enforcement powers in dealing with homelessness, many agencies have moved away from arrest-focused methods in favor of approaches that are designed to foster positive relationships with PEH, assess individual needs of each person or area, and guide homeless or unsheltered individuals to the services they require.
To better understand the potential challenges of the law enforcement response to homelessness, the RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum, on behalf of the National Institute of Justice, convened a workshop of practitioners and researchers to discuss current law enforcement responses to homelessness and identify the highest-priority needs to support and improve existing efforts. During this meeting, four major themes were identified. First, there is a common set of factors underlying homelessness that law enforcement can address. Second, homelessness and overall health and wellness are deeply intertwined issues that should be treated together. Third, effective responses require the collaboration of stakeholders across governments, the private sector, and the community. Finally, acquiring and sharing data is necessary to understand the nature and scope of homelessness in each jurisdiction and to measure the effect of any implemented strategies. All four of these themes are vital to understanding the current challenges confronting the implementation of innovative police responses to homelessness.