Goodyear Police outreach team works to help those experiencing homelessness
PHOENIX — An outreach team from the Goodyear Police Department is working to help those experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
“Our team was formulated to combat any kind of the criminal elements of homelessness as well as (be) an outreach team to help those experiencing homelessness get in contact with resources and shelters,” David Mitterbauer, officer and member of the department’s Homeless Outreach Team, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
He said the team was created in 2018 when several people in the department and city council members noticed an influx of individuals experiencing homelessness in the city.
The team, made up of an officer and a sergeant, drives around the city looking for homeless camps or people that appear to be homeless and makes contact with them to offer any help that may be needed.
“I try to find out if they are in need of any immediate services, any emergency services,” Mitterbauer said.
He added the team also serves as a crisis intervention for the department.
“That’s a big role because there’s a large amount of issues involving mental illness that cross over into the homeless aspect,” Mitterbauer said. “We have a lot of people that we come in contact with say they want help going to rehab for either drug use or alcohol abuse.
“If somebody is having some mental issues, we can either take them voluntarily to a local mental health facility or we can write a petition for them to be seen at that mental health facility.”
The team works with several organizations to help those experiencing homelessness, Mitterbauer said, including Phoenix Rescue Mission and Angels on Patrol.
“As a police department, we don’t have immediate access to the resources,” he said. “We basically put people in connection with those that can get them the resources.”
Another focus of the team is educating the community that homelessness is not a crime.
Mitterbauer said the Supreme Court has shot down many laws against panhandling, which was determined to be a first amendment right, while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also shot down various laws of urban camping.
“While the public may want us to strictly enforce the laws, legally we don’t have those laws to enforce,” he said.
“We got to find other ways of helping them basically get back up on their feet.”
The team, however, does provide private businesses the ability to request officers to trespass people from the property if the owners are not present.
Mitterbauer said the team will begin by notifying the person first, but may look at possible arrest if the person continues to return.
Goodyear police advise people who see a panhandler to donate clothes, food or money to a charity that directly helps the homeless instead of giving the person money.
The team says giving panhandlers money allows them to stay on the street longer and contributes to the homelessness epidemic.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.