Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn and Zone Commander Marty Ferrell met with Oldtimer and with homeless advocate Jeff Straka, both of Macland Presbyterian Church, today on neutral ground, the Atlanta Bread Company.
Left to right: Commander Marty Ferrell, Chief of Police Dan Flynn, Jeff Straka
(photo by Oldtimer, not shown)
The hour long meeting over coffee was very fruitful, with both sides coming away feeling quite good about the progress made in reducing the tension over the homeless situation. The chief seemed very interested in addressing the homeless problems in a caring and proactive manner and not only listened to what we had to say, but offered suggestions of his own that did not involve harsh treatment of the homeless.
I offered the chief details of the shelter shortage for emergency shelter, tansitional and supportive housing and he was a bit taken aback as to how needful this area is for more homeless support. I also gave him talleys from 211 call records that showed there were more than 2000 calls last year seeking shelter and transitional housing in our community. Jeff gave him a book to read on homeless and he agreed to read it.
He agreed that the recent homeless sweeps were the result of perhaps only 3 or 4 individuals that had been involved in serious criminal activity along with a more visible presence of the homeless in recent months. All of that raised the level of complaints to the point that they felt they had to take action, but that the vast majority of the affected homeless were not involved in criminal activity, but just caught in the middle.
He assured us that the police would not in the future make any general comments about the homeless that might cast them in a bad light, or lump them into the same category as those causing the problems. He realizes the need for treatment for substance abuse and mental illness among the homeless, but does not have a solution for it.
We all agreed that criminals that may be hiding among the homeless should be rooted out and dealt with. The Chief did say that they would concentrate on solving specific crimes involving the homeless and resolving specific complaints and not target those who merely happen to be homeless. He assured us that his officers will show compassion to those that are not otherwise breaking the law. He asked Jeff and I to call him or Commander Ferrell anytime we felt that the police had mistreated the homeless and they would investigate it.
The police will still have to respond to complaints, but did accept our suggestion that homeless advocates be alerted prior to any future sweeps and allow advocates to accompany them and collect tents and personal belongings and transport them to storage for the affected homeless to pick up rather than haul it to the dump. I had suggested that we would look into how we might implement it.
He proposed a possible program similar to one in Savannah where he had been chief before coming to Marietta, one in which a person or team assigned by the police would be proactive in case work for the homeless that they encounter as the result of complaints (where no criminal activity is involved). The caseworker would help locate needed services for the homeless rather than just run them off or put them in jail overnight. He suggested that such a program would pursue stronger punishment for the ones that commit more serious offences and more leniency for those merely complained about that not involved in criminal activity. He suggested that such a program might help many get off the streets.
Jeff proposed that our chuch establish an educational forum on the homeless for the community at large, including service providers, other churches, police and homeless within the community to address these problems. The chief said they would attend as long as they were productive and not “shouting matches,” something we would not have allowed anyway. Jeff is looking into bringing guests from other cities that have successfully addresed these problems.
I suggested a particular job program for the homeless that would require some cooperation from the police and the chief seemed very receptive but did not think they could help fund it. More on that later if we can get it off the ground.
Jeff in his special shirt