According to Delta Police Chief Luke Fedler, the Delta Police Department consistently and frequently receives complaints about the homeless population in the City of Delta. To those complaints, Fedler brought in the department’s code enforcement and animal control officer, Sam Ellison and Patrol Commander Jared Lang for a combined department statement regarding the issue.
By and large, Fedler, Ellison and Lang addressed the police department’s limitations with the homeless population; a point which usually brings up some hard feelings.
“We’re not putting our heads in the sand,” Fedler said. “We’ve been working on it for several years now.”
One frequent complaint from business owners, according to Fedler, is that homeless people are in the alleys, digging through the trash or spending time in front of a business. He specified that he fully understands those business owner’s concerns with that, as it can be a deterrent for people coming inside.
“Once your property hits a trash can, it becomes public property,” Fedler said. “The alleyways are owned by the city. Now, if they throw the trash out and make a mess, then we can charge them with littering. It’s not going to be an arrest-able offense.”
Same rule goes for sleeping on the sidewalks. “There’s nothing we can do about that,” Fedler said. “That’s their right, that’s their constitutional right.”
Panhandling is also legal and can’t be touched by the police.
Ellison said that the people who are really loitering in front of certain businesses can be asked to move along. Normally, they’re good about doing it, but it still takes police time which isn’t always available at any given time.
Under federal law, the Delta Police Department, like any other law enforcement agency, can only pursue legal action for actual broken laws.
With that being said, Fedler said the Delta Police Department was not in the habit of using their lack of legal power against the homeless as an excuse to not do anything. In fact, members of the force including Ellison and Lang have been gathering information on Delta’s own homeless population, taking note of backstory and reasons for their homelessness.
The results showed that a vast number of the local homeless people came to Delta due to some connection to the area, whether it’s family or something else to do with the past. They get here, they don’t necessarily find the help they’re looking for, and then they’re stuck.
One woman Ellison recalled had mental issues. She forgot to pay her rent and was evicted. She didn’t have the money to stay on her medications, and with that, couldn’t get out of her slump. Ellison did interact with her and determined that there seemed to be no signs of drugs or alcohol.
Others out there are problems, however. They are a population who is robbing and stealing, and those incidents are drug related more often than not. Fortunately, those cases can be dealt with on a legal basis as crimes are committed. But unfortunately, outstanding warrants and court cases do also hold those people in the area until everything is settled.
Barring that, Fedler brought up some success stories that the department has had in getting homeless people out of Delta entirely by assisting them in getting them to where they needed to go, where there was family or a place to stay.
One man named Tony had been homeless for several years, and according to Ellison, his story was that he’d been coming through Delta with nearly nothing and he’d gotten stuck.
Tony used to have a friend who lived in Delta 20 years prior but that friend was no longer around. Tony was ultimately stuck in Delta with no way of getting ahold of anyone connected to him and no way of getting anywhere else.
Upon talking to Tony last fall, Ellison was told that he actually had a place to go out of state but no way to get there and no money. In October, the police department verified that he didn’t have any warrants out for his arrest or any active court cases. His identification was valid.
His family was located and contacted. They affirmed Tony’s story, so the Delta Police Department bought Tony a ticket and got him home.
In recent weeks, the department heard from Tony’s family, who assured them that Tony was doing well and that he was working at a homeless shelter.
There was also a confirmed veteran who was homeless in Delta due to some insufficient funding through the VA insurance that had left him with some outrageous medical bills for his issues. DPD got him back to his family home in Georgia, where he had a support system.
Some other folks in the area have not had their happy endings. At the end of the day, there’s a lot the department would have to do to be able to get every single homeless person back on track. With some, it’s not necessarily possible.
They do, to some extent, provide blankets and sleeping bags to the homeless who really seem to lack any way of keeping warm in colder weather. Ellison asks them to be sure and take good care of those items and bag them properly between use, and by and large, they do.
As Ellison indicated, if they have the opportunity to help them, they’re for it, but they don’t want to encourage the issues several of them have.
“There are some in the City of Delta where I don’t think there’s a day goes by without contact on them,” Ellison said. “They’re very boisterous, there’s drugs and mental issues, and they potentially, once their court cases, all their probation and all their stuff is taken care of, we will be helping them to get back. And a lot of robberies might stop at that time, too.”
One man she referenced functions okay when he’s on his medications, but occasionally, the prescription runs out and all chaos breaks loose. “When he’s on his medication, he doesn’t do anything,” Ellison said. “He’s a normal human. It’s when he runs out of his prescription — and this happens every single month.”
“And then he picks up another case,” Fedler added, “which backs us up even further from getting him moved on. It’s just a big, vicious circle.”
With that person, his dad lives “back east” with no money to get his son home. He does, however, have a place to live, which is an ideal upgrade from this local’s current position. The homeless man’s mother used to be in the area. That was his whole support system but she ended up dying.
Fedler recalled that many complaints about the homeless population was that they made a mess. However, from Ellison’s experience working with them, it was indicated that the apathy toward littering wasn’t necessarily a trait they like to put on homeless people exclusively.
“We do have a few of the homeless people who really do help me pick up trash and debris,” Ellison said. “I provide them some [city-purchased] trash bags and stuff. They usually come to me — I don’t give them the whole role and walk away — I’m like, ‘How much do you think you’ll get done today?’ and give them that amount.”
The public works department has been awesome in the process, Ellison said. They’ve brought trash cans to problem areas in the city and at one point, a homeless man had significantly overfilled one with the trash he’d found lying around so Ellison had to call a city worker back real quick to manage that.
“There’s a few people that are really, really clean and like their stuff together,” Ellison said. “They do help. Mind you, they’re not like 9-5-type helpers.”
The City of Delta also has a plethora of park restrooms managed by public works staff. With that, they had some issues with certain people “finger painting” in those restrooms. In a case of that, it was actually a homeless man who had witnessed this and pointed the police department in the right direction, also committing to keeping an eye on things in the area.
The moral, in other words, was that each person’s story was significantly different, along with their behaviors.
Looking forward, Fedler said he hopes to continue growing in their relationship with the homeless population. He wants to look into bringing in a DPD case manager for specifically that, though no plans on this have been made. The determination within the City of Delta was that the problem was primarily a mental health issue, whether or not that’s related to drugs and alcohol.
In the meantime, Fedler said he wanted to justify the department’s role with the homeless community and their legal limits to moving them from public property.
That being said, Fedler asked that anyone in the community who feels that there is an issue should keep calling. It’s not an issue that DPD is ignoring, just an issue they hope for the community to understand.
“We’re trying to balance what’s best for everyone,” Fedler said.