Sheriff’s Office helps to break cycle of homelessness through outreach program

April 17, 2018 GMT

With the homeless population in northwest Houston growing, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is working to help the community find housing and break the cycle of homelessness.

The Homeless Outreach Team provides assistance to the area’s homeless, including transportation to transitional housing or a doctor’s appointment or by offering food, water, clothing, bedding and hygiene kits.

“Our first aim is to provide an outreach approach and services to support the homeless,” said Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Luke Ditta, who is part of the Homeless Outreach Team. “We find out what their barriers are and we help access the appropriate services.”

The number of homeless in Harris County is more than 4,000 residents.

“It’s steady growth in my opinion,” Ditta said. “We are staying very steady.”

The Homeless Outreach Team started in October 2015.

The Outreach Team was started to help the homeless population rather than continuously arresting them for loitering, said now-retired Harris County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Robert Henry, a three-decade veteran at the sheriff’s office who started the program after seeing the growing need in the community.

“We are very proactive,” Ditta said. “Our mission is to locate, educate, mentor and connect to our most vulnerable residents.”

“Not only do we want to improve the quality of their life, ultimately our goal is reduce the number of homeless on streets,” he said.

The Homeless Outreach Team helps connect homeless residents with various services in Northwest Houston, which are often faith-based nonprofit organizations.

The Homeless Outreach Team started a Homeless Identification card to provide homeless with identification. Many times, homeless residents have lost their state identification or driver’s license. The Homeless ID was approved by the state as a supportive document to allow homeless to enter an emergency shelter, for example.

In 2011, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office began its Crisis Intervention Response Team to respond to calls involving mentally disturbed residents. The team works to divert mentally ill residents from jail to a psychiatric setting.

The Homeless Outreach Team is a spinoff and expansion from that.

“Our goal is to remove them from the streets,” Ditta said. “That can take time. That could be overnight or that could take six to seven months. Everyone is different. We continue to provide a lot of support and mentoring. We try to break that cycle.”