How To Deal With Homelessness In A Reasonable, Humane Way

Sgt. Rick Schnell and the Homeless Outreach Team of San Diego have the trust of the homeless community. As it turns out, that's a huge thing to have. This commonsense approach to homelessness has improved the situation immensely.

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When I go to work, and I go in there, and I turn on my radio, and I walk out the door, it's, like, I go into this world where nobody else is in and I don't think people understand, that you're in that world, in that different reality.

Is 31 Quebec available to help out?

We don't respond to any homeless deals, unless we have complaints. Because since homelessness, itself, is not a crime, we don't get too involved in it, unless there's citizens calling up, saying they're drinking, they're smoking pot, they're blocking doorways, they're blocking the sidewalk, all those little disorder things.

All right. I'm there, right now. All right.

[Inaudible 00:00:55]

So, they'll call us into the area and then we'll start talking to everybody. Patrol will leave and then my team will stay behind talking with the groups or just the individuals or whatever it is. And over the last... since we've been doing this for 15 years, everybody on the street knows the Homeless Outreach Team van. Even though law enforcement is there, we're not going to arrest them for whatever. That's patrol's job. You good man?

Yeah, [Inaudible 00:01:21]

I talked you before a whole bunch of times. So, they get to know who we are and we offer all those alternatives, like, we could facilitate into the winter shelter, we can facilitate into St. Vincent's, we can facilitate into Rescue Mission because I can call and have somebody clean it.

[Inaudible 00:01:35]

All right. Whatever you don't want, just leave, we'll get it cleaned up.

I was on a squad when he made Sergeant. He came over to our squad and took over the squad. And then . . .

It's been downhill, ever since.

And I was a Sergeant, over at Westin Division, which is Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, and stuff. And we were arresting a lot of drunks. I mean, a lot. Forty a week. And they were just coming out and we were recycling through jail and the Sobering Center. And all of a sudden, my partner, John Liening, he came up, and said, "Hey, let's stop this. Let's try something different."

I was thinking, "Why don't we just get them treatment? Try to, somehow, funnel them through treatment, since they're already going to jail?" So, we tried that. And I got to tell you, it just worked right away. They came out of jail. We went into courts. We talked to them in courts. We got them into treatment, and right away, they did okay.

We're going to drive over to St. Vincent's. Get you set up there.



I finally realized, after all of these years, that I wasn't going to do it on my own. I needed some freedom in my life, and yet, I needed some direction. So, when this lawyer told me about the SIP program, even though it's six months, there's some freedom to it and there's a learning curve.

Let's do it, man.

Okay. I've got lunch. I am one happy dude.

They're pretty good guys. You know what? It could be you, it could be me, in a half a second. And to see them recover, at least, this is their last opportunity because without this program they would be dead and they're not.

Hug me, and kiss me, for the rest of my days.

Like, Elvis, he'll change. We'll just keep talking to him. One of these days, he'll figure it out and then we'll get him into housing and you won't even recognize him.

They call me Elvis. I'm not looking for a free ride.


What I'm looking for is a chance to get my life back into order.

When I go home, I turn it off. I don't carry it with me or any of that. And sometimes, it's upsetting. You see him there, with his legs and stuff. But that's his gig. He has a right to refuse. And my thing is, just keep talking to him because there are options for you outside of here.

Like what?

I don't know. They're going to talk to you about it today. There's probably housing options for you.

So, we have worked with Sergeant Schnell for many, many years. He has this great bond with lots of people that have been on the streets for years and years. He relates to them very well. He's able to work in a gentle manner and help get them the care they need.

Well, they have an inside bed, but you can still come out here all day and hang out.

He's, like, a social worker with a gun.

We found Eric. We can get Eric.

Eric Anderson?

Yeah, so . . .

He's severely mentally ill.



I don't know how they deal with him.

This is Theresa. She's my replacement.

He understands that to get some of these people the help that they need they have to trust you.

Where do you spend the night though?

And he's so good at building that trust and the rapport with the people that he's trying to help to get them to the day that they're ready to accept help.

I'm glad things are going well, man.

Yeah, [Inaudible 00:05:20]

I think the city's doing 100 times better than when I first started this.

Good seeing you.

Yeah, see you.

I think there's a real movement to get things going. We'll see.

I'm Rick Schnell. I'm Sergeant for the San Diego Police Department. Been on the department for almost 35 years. Been on with the Homeless Outreach Team for 14. I'm due to retire May 29, 2014. And it's been fun.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Sgt. Rick Schnell stars in this video by KPBS San Diego. See more on the KPBS San Diego YouTube page.

Apr 29, 2014

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