ST AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The St. Augustine Police Department is trying to help as many homeless people as possible. It’s part of its outreach program that’s been around in St. Augustine for a year.
It’s a common sight in downtown St. Augustine — the homeless, holding signs, asking for help. Jerry Pepper, a homeless military veteran, has been living on the streets in Florida for a couple of years.
“I’d rather have a roof over my head,” Pepper said.
And soon he will.
“Hopefully in the next couple of weeks,” Pepper said.
“We tried the old policing way: You’re violating the law, you’re going to jail. Well it doesn’t work if you have nowhere else to go,” said Officer Steven Fischer, with the St. Augustine Police Department.
So the St. Augustine Police Department rethought what it was doing and started helping people like Pepper.
In February 2019, Fischer joined another officer to start helping the homeless people in the city after the city commission approved the positions. Fischer said the program is helping the homeless find housing and get into rehab.
They work with a number of service providers to connect people to resources. Through the family reunification program, they’ve helped 146 people.
“They have to have either a family, employer, a friend, someone who is willing to help get them back on their feet. I can send them pretty much anywhere in the country,” Fischer said.
To see if the program is working, Fischer said they reached out to 32 people who had taken in a family member. The department was able to reach 14, and about 10 of them said their family member was still living with them and doing well.
Fischer said homelessness will never go away, but this will help.
“My hope is to be able as many as people as possible, get them housing, basic human services,” he said.
And soon, Pepper will be in a home of his own.
“It would be nice, especially this time of year, because it’s going to start getting warmer, like the year before,” Pepper said.
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