Fullerton PD helps teach Homelessness 101, a primer on understanding and benevolence

By Lou Ponsi

A transient, looking unkempt and destitute, positions himself near the entryway of the supermarket.

He hits you up for spare change.

Whether motivated by guilt, sympathy or maybe a combination of both, you dig some change out of your pocket and hand it over.

We’ve probably all done it.

But it’s exactly what we shouldn’t do, said Cpl. Ginny Johnson, homeless liaison officer with the Fullerton Police Department.

Liaison Officer and and Coast to Coast partner, Cpl. Ginny Johnson of Fullerton PD talks during Fullerton ACTÕs Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fullerton PD Cpl. Ginny Johnson speaks at a recent Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Johnson was among a group of experts who on Saturday, Feb. 18, gave presentations during Homelessness 101, a three-hour seminar held at Wayfare Fullerton, a shared work and gathering space in downtown’s historic Chapman Building.

The 50 or so attendees, many of whom were members of church groups with an honest desire to help, learned about homelessness from all perspectives, from legal definitions of homelessness and its correlation with mental illness to the role of law enforcement and why there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“It’s not a crime to be homeless,” said Johnson, who knows most of Fullerton’s homeless individuals on a first-name basis. “Typically, their contact with law enforcement has not been positive. That’s where we come in. We try to build that trust.”

Homeless liaison officers partner with the Coast to Coast Foundation and mental health clinicians, providing services to homeless individuals who want help.

Peter Bares of Santa Ana listens to the Homeless 101 talk with his wife, Donna, behind him. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Peter Bares of Santa Ana listens to the Homelessness 101 talk with his wife, Donna, beside him.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The worst-case scenario is when someone has to get arrested,” Johnson said. “That is not our goal.”

For community members who want to help the homeless, Johnson detailed a series of dos and don’ts.

Well-intentioned volunteers should always be mindful of their safety, Johnson said.

They should take the time to listen and exhibit compassion.

“Treat them as individuals,” Johnson said. “Treat them with respect.”

Liaison Officer and and Coast to Coast partner, Cpl. Ginny Johnson of Fullerton PD talks during Fullerton ACTÕs Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Cpl. Ginny Johnson of the Fullerton PD talks at the recent Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Volunteers should never do outreach alone, push themselves on an individual or invade anyone’s personal space, Johnson said.

And experts agree that giving a homeless individual money just enables them to remain where they are.

Homelessness 101 is organized every year by Fullerton – Advocating Community Transformation, or ACT, a collaboration of 16 local Christian churches who employ a faith-based approach to helping the homeless, working in partnership with other outreach groups.

Pastor Jason Phillips of Sojourners Community Church in Fullerton, and a chaplain for the Fullerton PD, is a co-director of ACT along with Briana Stickney of RockHarbor Fullerton church.

Kolle Smith of Fullerton, center, listens to the Homeless 101 talk. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Kolle Smith of Fullerton, center, listens to the Homelessness 101 presentation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Phillips became passionate about helping the homeless from his contact with former Fullerton PD Homeless Liaison Officer John “JD” DeCaprio, now retired, who helped spearhead many of the initiatives in place today.

“He kind of woke me up to what was going on,” Phillips said.

Some startling statistics also were presented during the seminar.

On any given night, there are 15,000 homeless people in Orange County, said Ariel Yarrish, founder of Future in Humanity, a nonprofit that helps the homeless get off the streets.

Nationally, 61 percent of the homeless are male and close to 50 percent of all homeless have a chronic disability, she said.

“We should be asking ourselves, as a community, what can we do to help them,” Yarrish said.

Ariel Yarrish of Future in Humanity, talks about Understanding Homelessness during the Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Ariel Yarrish of Future in Humanity, talks about “Understanding Homelessness” during the Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Briana Stickney, of Fullerton ACT, gives her talk on What You Can Do To Help during the Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Briana Stickney, of Fullerton ACT, gives her talk on “What You Can Do To Help” during the Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Carrie De Laurie of St. Jude Medical Center talks about Mental Health and Homelessness during the Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Carrie De Laurie of St. Jude Medical Center talks about “Mental Health and Homelessness” at the Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Homeless Liaison Officer and and Coast to Coast partner, Cpl. Ginny Johnson of Fullerton PD talks about how to help to those attending Fullerton ACTÕs Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fullerton PD Homeless Liaison Officer Cpl. Ginny Johnson talks about how to help to those attending Fullerton ACT’s Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fullerton PD Homeless Liaison Officer, Cpl. Ginny Johnson, left, Carrie De Laurie of St. Jude Medical Center, and Ariel Yarrish of Future in Humanity hold a panel discussion as they take questions during Fullerton ACTÕs Homeless 101 seminar. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fullerton PD Homeless Liaison Officer Cpl. Ginny Johnson, left, Carrie De Laurie of St. Jude Medical Center, and Ariel Yarrish of Future in Humanity hold a panel discussion as they take questions during Fullerton ACT’s Homelessness 101 seminar.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC