The San Luis Obispo Police Department officially launched a new partnership Thursday with Transitions Mental Health that provides a social worker to the Community Action Team.
The county is funding nearly $60,000 annually through the Mental Health Services Act to bring John Klevins, a social worker, to the department. In rare dynamic, Klevins works side-by-side with CAT officer Tim Koznek. Prior to this addition, it was only officers working together.
According to city data, in 2017, 411 people were either living on the streets, in homeless camps, or homeless shelters. In 2016, that number was 482 and in 2013 it was 750.
Part of Klevins’ work is to make contact with the population living in these camps and get them to a shelter or to take advantage of other county-offered services.
“My focus is healing, my focus is referrals,” Klevins said.
KSBY tagged along with Klevins and Koznek during a routine patrol at a homeless camp near Highway 101 and Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo. There, the duo worked with multiple transients, including Darcene Clayton who has been homeless in the area for nearly five years. With physical ailments and her post-traumatic stress, she says getting to a shelter or appointments can be difficult but also triggering.
“When I get into the system, the way this system works, it really starts triggering my symptoms,” Clayton said.
Klevins serves as a liaison between county-offered services like SLO County Drug and Alcohol Services and County Mental Health, and the homeless. In his nearly two months of work with the department, he says he’s working with about 60 people out of the homeless population who want to try and get off the streets.
“What I’m trying to do is build rapport, I’m trying to build trust,” Klevins said.
He doesn’t do this alone. Klevins works with Officer Koznek five days a week.
“Typically, it’s getting them into services and getting them in the right direction,” Koznek said. “If that doesn’t work or they’re unreceptive to it then we take action against them as far as a ticket, citing them, really whatever’s needed.”
Services before citations are the way of this game. Barely two months in and Koznek says ticketing for things like trespassing has already gone down.
“The enforcement end of it has dropped off a lot with John and picking up really more of the social work aspect,” Koznek said.
Both say the homeless community has been intimidated by officers coming to their camps in the past. Koznek says now that Klevins is on these routine calls and check-ins that the homeless community is a little more receptive to the help they’re trying to provide.
“We have slightly different ideas as to what we want to accomplish when we get to a site, but with the two of us together, becomes a great partnership.”
Right now, Klevins is the only social worker that does this type of work with a police agency; however, there are plans for this program to expand to other county agencies.