How Police Are Addressing Homelessness through Co-Responder Models

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experiencing homelessness are facing even greater health and safety risks than they otherwise do. Shelters are experiencing overcrowding, and some are not able to maintain social distancing compliance, with beds closer together than they should be. COVID-19 testing also is limited in shelters.

In addition, COVID has reduced the ability of some social service and community organizations to maintain their normal levels of services for people experiencing homelessness.

So more than ever, police have become the first responders of necessity for calls involving homelessness, as well as the co-occurring issues of mental illness and addiction.

At the same time, there are calls to “defund the police” in some locations, and to shift funding from police agencies to social service providers. It is not yet clear how that will be accomplished in cities that choose to modify their budgets. Key questions, such as whether social service agencies will be tasked with responding to calls outside of their current daily business hours, remain to be worked out.

In light of all of these issues, today’s Critical Issues Report takes a look at police agencies that have already shifted from enforcement-first approaches to more collaborative models that involve working closely with social and mental health professionals to address homelessness. These “co-responder” programs may provide guidance for other jurisdictions to consider as they face budget constraints and calls for change.

PERF examined four co-responder models in which police partner with mental health and social service professionals to provide immediate and long-term assistance to individuals experiencing homelessness and other co-occurring issues.

Other strategies for addressing homeless are detailed in PERF’s 2018 Critical Issues in Policing report, The Police Response to Homelessness




Sarasota, FL Police Department – Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)

In 2014, the Sarasota community called for significant change to the city’s approach to addressing homelessness. Until then, police officers had been singlehandedly responding to numerous daily complaints about individuals who were homeless on the streets. The Sarasota Police Department (SPD) developed a collaborative Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) based on principles of education, encouragement, and enforcement last.

The Homeless Outreach Team consists of a sergeant, four officers, and two City of Sarasota civilian case managers.  The main goal of the Team is to conduct daily outreach to homeless persons and respond to requests for service.  Team members help individuals enter the “Continuum of Care” program within Sarasota County. This is a network of service providers that share information and resources related to health, housing, mental health treatment, and other issues.

HOT outreach efforts can involve case managers, officers, or both. On first contact, case managers and/or officers inform homeless individuals about the options available to them. During the process, case managers and officers try to identify an individual’s goals and needs, then work together to formulate a plan to meet those goals and connect the individual with appropriate service providers.

As a follow-up, the HOT case managers are responsible for meeting with other case managers from the wider Continuum of Care program, to discuss the cases of vulnerable individuals who need services for long-term assistance.

The HOT works with three supplementary programs:

  • The housing voucher program provides homeless persons with housing vouchers through a city agreement with the Sarasota Housing Authority.
  • The HOT program at Salvation Army provides “HOT beds” for temporary stays as well as food and or other necessities for homeless individuals referred by the HOT team or an SPD officer. Individuals also receive case management to develop a plan.
  • The Homeward Bound Program provides transportation services to homeless persons who wish to go to the homes of family members or loved ones, or travel to a confirmed job out of town, or enter an out-of-town service program.

In addition, the HOT partners with local agencies, such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Sarasota-Manatee, Vocational Rehabilitation, School House Link, and Coastal Behavioral to provide extended services for persons experiencing homelessness.

In 2017, the HOT team made approximately 10,000 contacts with individuals experiencing homelessness. Of those who were placed in “HOT beds,” more than 30% were able to move quickly to a permanent housing destination and 39% transitioned to permanent housing or other more stable situations.

For more information:


Houston Police Department – Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)

After a six-month pilot test, the Houston Police Department’s Homelessness Outreach Team (HOT) became a permanent program in 2011. Building relationships with other organizations is a key principle of Houston’s HOT program. The team actively engages with persons experiencing homelessness  to determine short- and long-term solutions to their problems.

The HOT is a specialized group of police officers and mental health case managers from the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities. The team is composed of one sergeant, six HPD police officers, one Houston METRO police officer, one senior police service officer, and four case managers.

Police officers on the team receive comprehensive crisis intervention and de-escalation training.

The team helps persons experiencing homelessness to obtain the following necessities:

  • Housing
  • Shelter referrals
  • Medical care
  • Mental health treatment
  • Employment
  • Bus fare
  • Identification documents such as Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates.

Here’s how Houston’s Team operates:  When they encounter an individual experiencing homelessness, the team confirms the individual’s identity through a search of HPD and other records. After confirming the person’s identity, the HOT provides an official identification letter for homeless individuals to use in accessing social and community services.

In order to connect individuals to these services, the HOT develops partnerships with local service organizations, such as SEARCH Homeless Services, the Houston Coalition for the Homeless, Salvation Army, Healthcare for the Homeless, DeGeorge Veterans Housing, and others. These partnerships widen the network of services and resources that homeless individuals can connect with.

During outreach response efforts, the HOT works with the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. Case managers from the PATH program (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) provide targeted and holistic services to homeless individuals who are also experiencing mental health issues.

The long-range goal of HPD’s HOT is to help get individuals off the streets and into stable housing. In 2018, the HOT sheltered or assisted 323 persons with acquiring permanent and supportive housing. HPD’s HOT team has placed special emphasis on outreach to homeless veterans. Over a three-year period, the HOT team working with other city programs helped to find housing for 3,650 veterans.

For more information:


Pasadena, CA Police Department -- Homeless Outreach-Psychiatric Evaluation (HOPE) Teams

The Pasadena Police Department partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to create the Homeless Outreach-Psychiatric Evaluation (HOPE) Team program, which has been active since 2002. The goal of HOPE Teams is to provide effective, collaborative, and compassionate mental health and police emergency response to those in need of mental health, housing, and related social services.

HOPE Teams consist of three officers who are paired with either a registered nurse or a clinician. HOPE Team officers are specially trained in crisis communications, Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA), and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.  HOPE Teams also specialize in responding to individuals with suicidal or even homicidal tendencies.

HOPE Teams work as first responders to emergency mental health crisis calls.  They also proactively conduct outreach to individuals who need services before potentially volatile situations occur. The team’s goal is to reduce unnecessary incarceration and hospitalizations.

HOPE Teams work in a collaborative process to address a range of issues. The first step is to assess a person’s needs for services and access to resources such as clothing, food, shelter, substance abuse treatment facilities, and health clinics.

After assessment, to plant the seed of trust for future response efforts, HOPE Teams use relationship-building methods to help people accept services and avoid future crisis calls. Law enforcement is used if a person poses a threat to the community. Much of the team’s work is targeted toward street-level and sheltered homeless persons, as well as mental health consumers within city limits.

In the 2019 city count of the homeless population, Pasadena recorded its second-lowest number of people living in cars or on the streets in the past decade, with 542 people experiencing homelessness on a given night. This number represented a 20-percent decrease from 2011.

For more information:


Long Beach, CA Police Department – Mental Evaluation Unit and Quality of Life Unit

The Long Beach Police Department has two units to address homelessness in the city: the Mental Evaluation Team (MET) and Quality of Life unit (QoL). The MET and QoL teams consist of partnerships with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Long Beach Police Foundation, Long Beach Health Department’s Homeless Services Division, and other community partners. The MET and QoL units handle calls involving persons experiencing mental illness and homelessness, and they help provide services, resources, and protection for those individuals.

The MET includes specially trained sworn officers who partner with clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Riding together in a car, the team responds to mental health crisis calls, which often involve individuals who are also experiencing homelessness.

The MET assesses the situation and provides connections to emergency health, social services, or other resources. Some of the sworn officers on MET are trained crisis negotiators who assist with SWAT responses as well.

The QoL teams consist of police officers and mental health clinicians, who connect homeless individuals to non-government agency services, community support groups, housing resources, transportation, and mental health services, with the goal of providing permanent housing. Like the MET, the QoL teams focus on building trusting relationships with persons experiencing homelessness in Long Beach.

An important part of the strategy is to provide the teams with the training and information they need to connect people with services and response efforts. The Health Department’s Homeless Services Division educates officers about various grant-funded programs and the operations of the Long Beach Multi-Service Center (MSC), which provides outreach, intake assessments, case management and housing placement services, and conducts a biennial homeless count. QoL officers also work closely with the Mental Health Association Village, an organization focused on homeless advocacy.

Because the MET and QoL teams often work together to respond to calls for service involving homeless individuals who may be experiencing co-occurring issues, the Long Beach Police Department recently announced it will consolidate the two teams into a single, collaborative unit within the Patrol Bureau’s Field Support Division. A lieutenant and sergeant will oversee the combined operations, track citywide productivity, and evaluate new technology that could help officers in their response efforts.

The consolidation plan also includes the creation of a Liaison Officer, who will work out of the Multi-Service Center. The Liaison Officer will work to increase collaborative efforts between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Police Department by developing new partnerships with organizations that provide programs and services for persons experiencing homelessness.

For more information:


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.