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Policing for Kindness

September 2, 2017, was a record-hot day in Lompoc. As Officer Xiong was trying to keep cool in the over 100-degree temperatures, he noticed a family who was having a hard time. As he went to talk to them, he found out that they were homeless and without food. Seeing that the oldest member of the family, Corine, was having a particularly difficult time, Officer Xiong used funds from the Timely Opportunities grant that the Santa Barbara Foundation gave the Lompoc Police Foundation to book them a hotel room and buy them food.

“I asked the foundation for a $1,000 for a pilot program to build trust with the homeless community in Lompoc,” said Pat Walsh, Chief of Police of the Lompoc Police Department. “We were not only able to use funds to help homeless people out of situations, but we also and more importantly were able to build a rapport and relationships with some of the homeless population, which will help us do our work more effectively.”

The foundation provides Timely Opportunities grants to applicants who request a small amount of money, like the Lompoc Police Foundation, or to organizations that need assistance with incidents, such as those caused by natural disasters, that do not align with the foundation’s grant application process and deadlines. The foundation’s support of the Lompoc Police Foundation’s pilot program allowed Chief Walsh to try out a program currently used in Portland, Oregon, to see if it could achieve the same success in Lompoc. The funds allowed Officer Xiong, who serves as the police department’s liaison to the homeless, to provide gas, food and transportation assistance to a handful of individuals. This resulted in improved, communication between police officers and the homeless community in Lompoc and provided police officers with another tool to complete their jobs.

“Many of us will often bring out our own checkbooks to help people out, so it is nice to be able to provide this as a tool for my officer to help without it being a personal sacrifice,” said Walsh. “It helps us nudge people out of a certain lifestyle and towards housing or sobriety and has created a space for us to have conversations with folks without coming across as the enemy.”

After seeing the impact that the funds had on both the officers and the homeless, Walsh hopes to create an officer position that is fully dedicated to being a liaison with the homeless.

“While right now I am shorthanded with officers, when I have a full contingency, I would like to be able to create a full-time position, secure more funds and ramp up the program to be able to get to a point where people are coming to us with whatever the need – clothes, showers, haircuts, reunification with families – so we can facilitate it,” said Walsh. “I always tell my officers that homelessness is a condition, not a crime, and it is important we treat people with dignity and build trust because, if we can do that, we will have a healthier, stronger community.”

For more information about the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Timely Opportunities, please contact Kathy Simas,
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101