Citrus Heights’ Navigator Program Working to Fill the Gaps

Citrus Heights, CA  |  Story by Shaunna Boyd

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - Officer James Garing and Sergeant James Evans are part of the Special Operations Unit of the Citrus Heights Police Department (CHPD). They recently updated the Citrus Heights City Council about the department’s efforts to provide resources to homeless persons in the city.

Because homelessness is an issue that affects the entire region, the CHPD is partnering with many agencies in the area: California Highway Patrol, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Placer County Probation, Roseville Police, Auburn Police, Lincoln Police, Rocklin Police, and Union Pacific Railroad Police.

The regional partners hold quarterly meetings to discuss the failures and successes of various strategies to address homelessness. These meetings provide an opportunity for the agencies to collaborate and find solutions to problems. Officer Garing explained that one of the failed strategies was a practice known as “re-towning,” in which an agency would pick up a homeless person and drop them off in the next city.

Officer Garing said, “This was not a solution to solve any problems and, quite frankly, it made a lot of the agencies look bad.” The regional partners have now all mutually agreed to suspend this practice and focus on providing resources to help address the underlying causes of homelessness.

“We have resources available in the area for people that are homeless,” said Officer Garing. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it. And when it comes to working with our homeless, we can provide them all the resource information, but we can’t force them to take it and we can’t force them to go to the shelters. So what we have to do is figure out ways to have continuous contact, and to find our success that way. And one of our best resources is Toni, our Navigator.”

The most successful strategy implemented by the CHPD is the Navigator Program. Toni Morgan is the Citrus Heights Navigator, and each week she goes to targeted locations with CHPD officers to meet directly with homeless persons in the city.

“Essentially, we’re bringing the resources and information to them,” said Officer Garing. “And then [Morgan] can set up the appointments and meetings and start bringing them into her program and eventually have that continuous contact.”

“We can’t force them into these programs; all we can do is encourage them to get involved,” said Officer Garing. Sometimes people accept help after the first contact, but for others it takes 10 to 20 contacts before they are willing to engage.

Officer Garing said that is why continuous contact is so important: eventually people realize that Morgan and the accompanying officers really do care and want to help them improve their living situation.

Citrus Heights was the first city in the region to implement the Navigator Program. Morgan, the original Navigator, has now trained six additional Navigators in the Sacramento area. In the first quarter of 2019, Morgan has already housed 30 people, helped 14 people get new IDs, provided 10 lawyer referrals, given out 32 bus passes, and enrolled three people into the Mather program — a 13-month job placement and living program. Morgan currently has 880 active clients.

In 2015, CHPD started the Homeless Outreach Program and Education (HOPE) Survey, which is conducted in April each year. During any contact with a homeless person, officers collect their information and give it to Morgan so she can reach out to them. Because officers are out in the field responding to a variety of calls, they have many opportunities to meet people who could benefit from the help of the Navigator Program.

When comparing HOPE Survey cards with the regional partners, the CHPD was interested to see if there was a migratory pattern of homelessness. Of the 147 survey cards collected in Citrus Heights last year, the other agencies only recognized three names. This indicates that the majority of homeless people have ties to specific communities.

Now that there more regional Navigators available, people can receive the resources they need within their own community.