Westminster PD’s new homeless liaison officer works with City Net outreach group to assist local transient population

By Jessica Peralta

Lying on a mattress in front of a Westminster dentist’s office, the man answers questions asked by Westminster PD officers who were responding to a call for a wellness check.

One of the officers, speaking to the homeless man in Spanish, learns that the man is unable to move due to a medical condition.

Westminster PD Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez, top left, works with Sophia Cao and Blake Wigglesworth of City Net as they talk to a group of homeless people in the parking lot of Walmart.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The officers, along with Westminster PD’s Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez and members of City Net, plot a course of action to help get the man help. After giving him some information and telling him they’d be back the next day, the man said “bless you” to the group.

“You know what, if I get one person off the street, I’m happy,” Perez told the group.

Homeless Outreach/Collaborative Case Manager Sophia Cao of City Net talks to a group of homeless people gathered in the parking lot of Walmart in Westminster about getting them help to get off the streets.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

That is, in fact, Perez’s mission as the WPD’s new homeless liaison officer. Though he officially began the position on March 3, Perez has been working as a homeless liaison officer while on patrol for several months prior — inspired by Sgt. Dave Ferronato, who has been working with the local transient population unofficially for some time.

On Monday nights, Perez is accompanied by two City Net members – Community Coordinator Blake Wigglesworth and Collaborative Case Manager Sophia Cao – who assist with connecting those homeless individuals they contact to as many services as they can. The services can include things like an ID waiver, which allows for those without IDs to find jobs without immediately having a form of identification, which can be a big hurdle for transients, or can be bigger tasks, like finding them a bed to help get them off the streets.

“It’s the follow-up that’s the hardest part,” Perez said. “They’ve got to wanna do it.”

Westminster PD Officer Roland Perez checks in with other officers before heading to his next location. Behind him is Blake Wigglesworth of City Net.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

On this particular Monday night, the trio visits with transients who have scheduled appointments through City Net, as well as those they happen upon while driving around hotspots known to be frequented by the homeless.

In one retail center parking lot, they chat with a group of six men and one woman sitting on the curb of a small courtyard. Wigglesworth and Cao ask questions and hand out their cards. Cao gave one of them an ID waiver and two were interested in detox programs.

“We’ll follow up within the week, see if they’ve made the proper steps to where they want to go,” Cao said.

Westminster PD Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez talks to a man sleeping in front of a small business about getting him some help.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Making their way to an appointment, Perez stops when he recognizes someone.

“Is that Anita?” he asked.

The three get out of the car to talk to the woman who is walking along with a shopping cart full of bags.

Westminster PD Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez talks with Ruy about getting off the streets as Sophia Cao and Blake Wigglesworth of City Net try to match him up with organizations that can help him.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Perez uses sign language to communicate with Anita and translate for Cao and Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth hands Anita his card, asking Perez to “tell her we can look into some things.”

In this way, the three drive to appointments and through the city, helping when they can. Wigglesworth said this kind of partnership between law enforcement and City Net allows for a greater connection with the local homeless population.

“There’s a lot of really good benefit,” he said.

Westminster PD Homeless Liaison Officer Roland Perez uses sign language to communicate with Anita, as Sophia Cao and Blake Wigglesworth of City Net, right, arrange a followup meeting to get her help and off the streets.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC