“It’s a Mercedes!”
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland and Mayor Annise Parker accepted the keys to the Mercedes van during a ceremony at Discovery Green today.
The new van for HPD’s Homeless Outreach Team sports the department’s new black-and-white design and is equipped with a wheelchair lift. It was donated by the Frees Foundation and the Simmons Foundation.
Parker says people often ask her why the police department doesn’t leave homeless issues to nonprofit organizations.
“[Why is this a police issue?] Unfortunately, it’s because often it’s the police department that gets called first when there’s someone who is homeless seeking shelter on private property, or just trying to take care of physical needs on private property. There’s an angry phone call. It goes to the police department.”
The Homeless Outreach Team is a full-time force comprised of three officers who go out every day, build relationships with homeless Houstonians, and help them connect with government services.
Officer Jaime Giraldo is part of the Homeless Outreach Team.
“What we do is we talk to them, we find out who they are, ask them why they’re on the streets, you know, what brought them to the streets, and more importantly, what’s it going to take to get them off the streets.”
Chief McClelland says the new vehicle replaces a worn 1999 ford van that was barely running.
“And obviously our patrol cars are not equipped to assist our most vulnerable residents sometimes who may be in wheelchairs and need other assistance, but this van will certainly eliminate this and it goes a long ways to help us connect our homeless to government services that they so desperately need.”
According to the Houston coalition for the homeless, between 7,000 and 12,000 people in the greater Houston area were homeless when the group counted on a day last January.