Community & Compassion: How the Palatine Police Department Is Making a Difference for Local Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
By Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
To say that the relationship between people experiencing homelessness and the police can be tense is something of an understatement. Across the nation there are laws on the books that penalize day-to-day life for many unhoused people. For instance, a law passed in Missouri in 2022 that went into effect at the beginning of this year prohibits sleeping in public spaces. There are also plenty of laws that make it illegal to sleep in cars, panhandle, and even to be vagrant.
According to the RAND Corporation, the police are often the only contact that people experiencing homelessness have with the government. In recent years, many local governments and police departments have recognized the need to revisit traditional policing methods that often punish people experiencing homelessness – methods that are proven to be ineffective.
The Palatine Police Department is among the trailblazers in law enforcement working not only to improve their relationship with people experiencing homelessness in our community, but also to be a resource on the path towards independence and permanent housing.
I spoke with Officer Nick Heuertz, called Officer Nick here at JOURNEYS, who is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Palatine Police Department and a JOURNEYS Board Member. The Palatine Police Department, Officer Nick tells me, has had a “long-standing and very positive relationship” with JOURNEYS, thanks in no small part to the work of Alan Stoeckel, retired Palatine Police Chief and former JOURNEYS Board Member. When Chief Stoeckel retired from the force, he passed on his board seat to Officer Nick to help maintain the decades-long relationship between the two organizations.
The Palatine Police Department continues to cultivate its relationship with JOURNEYS and its clients. The Crime Prevention Unit in partnership with the Neighborhood Based Policing Program worked with JOURNEYS to develop a four-part series of talks geared towards informing our HOPE Center clients about the police department’s goals and the resources available to them.
Officer Nick began the series during the last week of March. He came to the HOPE Center and talked about how the Palatine Police Department actively strives to provide solutions at a grassroots level. “We want to meet them where they are,” Officer Nick says. “It’s important to address that some people experiencing homelessness may not have always had positive experiences with law enforcement officers. We think it’s really, really important that clients at JOURNEYS know the police department here in Palatine is here for them.”
Over the next few weeks, more representatives from the Palatine Police Department will come to JOURNEYS. Next up is their new resident social worker, Kimberly Quintanilla, who will come to talk to clients about her role and what resources she provides. “As a clinician,” he explains, “she brings a totally different skillset, and has access to a lot of programs [we] don’t. We’re lucky to have her.”
Then, a few patrol officers will stop by who work the area around JOURNEYS and in downtown Palatine. Officer Nick is hoping their visit will help build a connection between JOURNEYS clients and the officers they are most likely to encounter, especially when interactions between clients and police often occur on an enforcement basis when dispatch is called. Building familiarity will help build trust.
Finally, JOURNEYS will host a visit from the Palatine Fire Department. Clients most often encounter the fire department during ambulance calls, which can be scary and overwhelming experiences. The Palatine Fire Department representatives will walk clients through the process – like taking blood pressure, blood oxygen level and heart rate – so that it seems less intimidating.
As an organization, the Palatine Police Department has ramped up its training on ways of engaging with people that will yield the best possible outcomes, including de-escalation and how to better interact with people with substance use disorders or experiencing mental health crises.
We at JOURNEYS are lucky to have such a strong and enduring partnership with the Palatine Police Department. It is inspiring to work alongside an organization that advocates JOURNEYS’ mission to help people experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless.
For Officer Nick, a win is as small as getting a better outcome for one person at a time. “Acknowledging their humanity is important,” he says. “Homelessness is not someone else’s problem. It’s always very close to us.”
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