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January 2, 2018 > BART cops use new program to assist the homeless

BART cops use new program to assist the homeless

Submitted By BART

JessicaÕs 23 years on earth had brought her to this place: Civic Center BART Station, tired and hungry, at a decision point. She had no drugs in her possession, but was carrying clean needles like a talisman against the heroin that had torn apart her young life.

Her cheery Facebook account belied her real situation. On the pages were photographs of a young woman with a silly grin and big, brown doe eyes. She wrote of mundane things, like eating Cocoa Krispies and watching SpongeBob SquarePants, alongside milestones like entering college and starting a relationship.

But BART Police Officers Dave Touye and Eric Hofstein knew different. As beat cops in Zone 4, which includes the downtown San Francisco stations with the largest homeless populations, they had seen Jessica (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) nodding off into a heroin haze, becoming thinner, sicker, more vulnerable in the space of a few months.

Touye could have arrested her, but instead, he had something else to offer. Jessica became the first person sheltering in BART to be referred into a new pilot program called LEAD, for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. Jessica agreed that day to go into the LEAD program, and had 30 days to meet with the caseworker. ÒShe told me she was ready, she was willing,Ó said Touye.

Modeled after a six-year-old Seattle program, LEAD focuses on harm reduction rather than judgment or requiring total abstinence. It includes homeless people, law enforcement, public health care providers, social workers and others from the communityÑall partners in the process, rather than on one ÔsideÕ or another.

LEAD is paid for through a $6 million grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections and has three main goals:

¥ Reduce the recidivism rate for low-level drug and alcohol offenders
¥ Strengthen collaboration across city and community-based partners
¥ Improve the health and housing status of participants

Unlike other programs before it, LEAD does not require drug abstinence or drug testingÑit emphasizes the here and now. ÒWhat can we do to help you out today?Ó officers ask. The tone is more caring than judgmental.

This isnÕt however an automatic pass. The referred person has 30 days to do an intake with a case worker, who can help them with job training, housing assistance, or addiction recovery when they are ready for it. Participation must be voluntaryÑBART officers record the conversations on their body-worn camera so they have the personÕs verbal agreement to participate. A person does not have to be homeless to participate in the LEAD program.

The situation is daunting. The same people account for many of the contacts. The week after JessicaÕs LEAD referral, Hofstein couldnÕt say for sure if she would follow through on her end to meet with the caseworker. ÒI saw her in the station again,Ó he recalled, Òbut she skittered away.Ó

Still, Jessica could be one of the lucky ones. She is young, her habits not yet hardened. Her mother writes heartbreaking pleas to the officers, asking them to look out for her daughter, and what she can send instead of money, fearing money would go to drugs.

The LEAD program is in its infancy; still, if successful, there is hope for Jessica. For all the Jessicas.

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