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AROUND TOWN: Police HOT Team, Interfaith Hospitality Network help the homeless
The conversation had a common thread as the Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team — the HOT Team — and the Interfaith Hospitality Network sat down to lunch recently: helping the homeless move forward with their lives.
The 16th annual IHN “Hearts for the Homeless” recognition luncheon and fundraiser, Feb. 10 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, drew more than 300 people.
Church congregations in the Interfaith Hospitality Network offer temporary homes in their churches for homeless families to have a safe place to stay and meals to eat as they are helped toward self-sufficiency.
Last year the network helped 24 families with more than 50 children. It takes 17,000 hours a year to accomplish this, said IHN Executive Director Michael Royal. Recently added to the program is the Family Mentoring Alliance, done in collaboration with the Springs Rescue Mission.
HOT Team members Brett Iverson, Dan McCormack and M.J. Thomson shared that the people both the team and IHN are reaching out to are just people who are down on their luck. The face of homelessness is changing, Iverson said. It’s no longer “old guys with beards, it’s families and children.”
Before 2008, Iverson said, the police had a Neighborhood Policing Unit with officers competing to see how many tickets they could write each homeless person. There were tickets for public drunkenness, camping on public property and just about anything else illegal.
That all changed and the HOT Team created its own award-winning program, building relationships with the homeless, putting human faces on the people themselves. They learned what each person needed to move on. It was as simple as sitting down for lunch with the homeless at the Marian House Soup Kitchen a couple of times a week and they still do, Iverson said. It's an opportunity to develop trust.
The officers developed partnerships with community resources such as IHN. It works, said IHN graduate parents Seidilyn Burgos and Nathan and Erin Garcia, who told the audience the officers and the people at the churches treat them like human beings and are there to help. The families learn how to be part of the solution.