Elizabeth police chief responds to talk about homelessness

Berghahn describes work of his department, best methods for helping

Posted
Following a recent flurry of comments about homelessness on an Elizabeth-area Facebook page — sparked by a resident’s post complaining about a person at the Elizabeth Walmart who appeared to be homeless — town Police Chief Melvin Berghahn engaged in a Q&A with the Elbert County News regarding issues around homelessness.
 
The terms “homeless” and “suffering from houselessness” are used interchangeably below.
 
Is there some sort of town policy about this? Or general way y’all handle people experiencing homelessness?
 
The police department will always help the best we can. This includes helping the homeless address any current pressing concern and trying to help them get on the right track. In the past we have purchased gasoline for vehicles, we have purchased food, and given rides. Together with a mental health provider, Elizabeth officers connect people who are homeless with community groups, including churches, food banks, shelters, and veteran organizations.
 
We also help people who are unsheltered with smaller tasks, whether that’s getting an ID, finding warmth for the night, or even paying for a ride, hotel, or meal to make sure they are safe going forward.
 
Many times, we will have medical professionals check on them to help ensure they are healthy and safe. The initial check is at no cost and helps greatly as we go forward with helping find resolution and resources.
 
It is important we, as police, advocate for the homeless. Officers are well equipped to venture into dangerous situations and can deal with complicated predicaments and capitalize on resources as needed. It’s not always safe to get involved with difficult circumstances.
 
Historically police departments have dealt with homeless concerns by capitalizing on the penal code. Our approach is to get involved, get people off the street, and eliminate the problem they may cause by getting services and resources introduced.
 
Do you have any suggestions for residents who encounter people experiencing homelessness while in Elizabeth?
 
A few things people can do for the unfortunate and homeless is to get to know them. Spend time with them. Ask them their names and remember them. Tell them yours. Shake their hands. Be open and friendly. Allow them to tell their stories. Listen. Remember.
 
The unfortunate and homeless are our equals. Honor them, respect them, and treat them with respect and care. Feel honored that they are willing to share their lives with you. Find out from them what they most need. Your presence may be at the top of the list.
 
If you’re giving them “stuff,” personally hand it out. Remember. you’re “sharing,” be it your time or your stuff. If you distribute food, small items that can be held in the hand and that don’t need plates, silverware, ovens, or refrigerators work best. Give them new socks and underwear. Bag them individually in Ziploc bags, marked with the size. Give hotel size, single-use toiletries like soap, lotion, shampoo, razors (bag one or two disposable razors in Ziploc snack size bags) and so on. Give them clean clothes, blankets, and similar items that are in good condition. Launder and fold them and label them with sizes. Dirty clothes and blankets usually end up in a dumpster.
 
Find toothbrushes that have covers. Many of the unfortunate and homeless have significant dental problems and cannot eat items that require a mouth filled with good teeth, such as apples. They can usually handle bananas, tangerines, and oranges. Always take bottles of water, regardless of the time of year. Dehydration is also a common problem among the homeless.
 
Gift cards are a safe choice. You will know what your financial help is going to.
 
Are there things that people should not do when in encounters with those suffering from houselessness?
 
A few things not to do for the unfortunate and homeless. Never give them money. If they tell you they need it to buy a specific item, buy the item for them.
 
Never tell them your address or take them to your home.
 
Don’t go alone. Don’t go in large groups. Groups of three to five work best. Don’t go after dark. Mid-morning to midafternoon works best.
 
Do not drop off cases of bakery products, such as loaves of bread, packages of rolls, whole cakes and pies, packages of frozen dough, unbaked pizzas, and so on. Most of this will end up in the garbage.
 
Try to avoid giving out “packets” of items, such as a toothbrush, lotion, apple, socks and soap, unless you tell them what is in the packet and ask them which of those items they need. Otherwise, they sort through the packet after you’ve left and throw away the items they don’t want.
 
Don’t take your wallet or purse or wear expensive jewelry or clothing.
 
Don’t give them new clothing, with a few exceptions (socks, underwear, and possibly shoes).
 
Three reasons why not to give new items:
 
A. Expensive new items may endanger them in areas with high populations of street people, where it is likely they’ll be mugged (and possibly beaten) and lose that new coat you gave them.
 
B. They frequently sell those items to raise cash to fund their habits.
 
C. Many do not have access to laundromats. When the sweatshirt you gave them gets filthy, if they can lay their hands on another one, they’ll throw the filthy one in the trash.
 
Do you see the homelessness/houselessness issue shifting in Elizabeth as a result of the development and growing population? Why and how?
 
The Town of Elizabeth is not seeing a shift. With the practices and interventions that can be offered to others, it reduces the likelihood of seeing it in Elizabeth in the future. While being able to provide resources, such as alcohol/substance abuse counseling, we can provide resources for food assistance, financial assistance, and housing assistance. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office is a resource to also help prevent someone from becoming homeless. Along with the listed resources we have a good plan going forward to help those in need.
 

Resources for people experiencing homelessness

 
Elizabeth Police Chief Melvin Berghahn, in a Q&A with the Elbert County News, provided this list of resources for people experiencing homelessness:
 

General resources

• Family Promise of Greater Denver
familypromiseofgreaterdenver.org

• Haven of Hope: Jay Gould Center
thoh.org

• New Genesis: Transnational Community for the Homeless
newgenesis.org

• Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
coloradocoalition.org

• The Delores Project
thedeloresproject.org

• The Salvation Army
salvationarmyusa.org/usn/provide-shelter

• Denver Rescue Mission
denverrescuemission.org

Elbert County-specific resources

• Elizabeth Presbyterian Church Food Bank
elizabethpc.org

• Elbert County Public Health
elbertcounty-co.gov/206/Public-Health
(For county resources, food stamps WIC, health and well-being)

• Elbert County Human Services
elbertcounty-co.gov/208/Human-Services
(For local food and cash assistance)

• Elbert County Coalition Outreach:
eccoinkiowa.com

• Elbert County Workforce Center:
tinyurl.com/ECresc

homeless, homelessness, elizabeth, colorado, melvin berghahn

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