PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles Police Department and Volunteers In Medicine of the Olympics have teamed up in an effort to connect the city’s homeless and others who PAPD officers see with services they might not know are available.
The program is called Rediscovery and is headed by Amy Miller with VIMO.
For about the last two weeks Miller has riding with PAPD officers and reaching out to people while on calls in an effort to connect them with medical, dental, housing and drug treatment resources. She spends about half of her time riding with PAPD officers so she can try to find help for people who are in crisis. She also visits places where homeless people are known to go.
“I’m not here at all in anyway to duplicate any services that are being done,” Miller said last Thursday. “I am hoping to be the centralized hub of that information for folks who may not know there is that service.”
This isn’t the first time PAPD has partnered with a local agency to embed a social worker with its officers.
The program is similar to the housing beat, a program PAPD does in partnership with Serenity House of Clallam County that uses street outreach to get people into housing.
“That was geared more towards housing, but it’s the same idea,” said Police Chief Brian Smith. “This is taking it to the next step.”
He said the new partnership adds to PAPD’s partnerships with Serenity House, Peninsula Behavioral Health and North Olympic Healthcare Network.
Smith said this program will best serve people who are in the “margins.” He said the program will help people who officers respond to who may not have committed a crime, but are not in enough of a crisis that the Involuntary Treatment Act can be applied.
He said in some cases PAPD will be asked to respond to the same person several times in the same day, but what that person needs is connections to services that are available.
“There’s a host of problems that people might have and one of the things that connects those is law enforcement deals with everybody,” he said. “every day of the week officers encounter people who need services, that need assistance.”
The work Miller involves her connecting people with drug treatment and mental health and whatever other resources they may need.
Miller said she anticipates a big portion of her job will be to connect people with treatment for substance use disorder. Though it hasn’t been the focus yet, she said she is working with someone now who is interested in treatment.
With the program in its early stages, Miller said she is focusing on building relationships with people and letting them know what resources are out there.
“There are people who didn’t know VIMO existed, that there was a free clinic that could provide medical or dental care or free counseling,” she said. “I was able to get them that information … and to me that’s a success.”
When Miller isn’t at the Salvation Army, The Answer for Youth (TAFY) or with PAPD, she tries to meet with people at VIMO.
The Clallam County Commissioners dedicated $50,787 in county Chemical Dependency and Mental Health funds to VIMO on May 29 to fund the program through the end of the year.
Among the goals of the program is for VIMO patient navigators to remove barriers to treatment by helping to set up initial appointments, transportation and other needs.
Miller is contracted with VIMO on a part-time basis, but officials with VIMO and PAPD each hope to find more grant funding to expand the program.
T. Scott Brandon, development director for VIMO, said he and Smith have identified additional funding sources and that he plans to reapply for county funding next year.
He said VIMO started ramping up the program prior to county commissioners approving funding this year because of how great the need is.
“We got involved in this because we saw a community need that was not being met,” he said. “There are people in the community that don’t know help is available or they don’t know how to access help.”
Smith has his eyes on a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that would allow PAPD to put more resources into the program.
“Obviously our goal is to make this a sustainable long term program,” he said. “We think the concept is pretty sound. It’s partnering two different parts of the system that together can do a lot more than if they are just working by themselves.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].