Hospitality House (HH) and its partners recently introduced Peace Officers and Standard Training (POST) curriculum in Nevada County, a training focused on homelessness best practices that is officially available to all law enforcement throughout the state of California. The curriculum was created in partnership with Grass Valley Police Department (GVPD), Nevada County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO), Nevada City Police Department (NCPD) and Nevada County Behavioral Health (NCBH), following a collaborative grant award to Hospitality House from the California Commission on POST with a goal to train a total of 105 local officers in 2021. Twenty-four GVPD sworn officers have been trained to date with more officers in queue from NCSO and NCPD in the coming months.

“At the heart of this curriculum is community,” said Nancy Baglietto, Executive Director at Hospitality House. “It’s unprecedented to have this many organizations working together in a shared initiative to promote peaceful and purposeful interactions between people experiencing homelessness and local law enforcement. This speaks volumes about our community’s commitment to creating improved outcomes overall.”

Local law enforcement reports that a significant number of calls for service are in response to concerns involving homeless individuals, highlighting the need for homeless-concentrated training. The POST training seeks to augment a law enforcement officer’s toolbelt with homelessness best practices, improving long-term outcomes. For the last two years, HH and its partners have been developing the training using a street team approach with a goal to assist officers in addressing the complex set of challenges surrounding homelessness, including causes, mental illness and substance abuse, in addition to providing de-escalation tactics and leveraging available community resources.

To improve connections and establish best practices, extensive field work was required to create the training. Representatives from each agency traveled throughout the state, shadowing well-established outreach teams. Chiefs Chad Ellis (NCPD) and Alex Gammelgard (GVPD), and Sheriff Shannan Moon traveled with Baglietto, NCBH Director Phebe Bell, and former general manager of the California Prison Industry Authority, Matt Powers, to research the program methodologies of the San Diego’s successful Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). Additionally, the team acquired valuable information by visiting notable programs in Woodland and Sacramento.

“Today’s peace officers are expected to interact and deal with complex issues such as homelessness and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis on a regular basis. Increasing the skillset for the average peace officer in the field can save lives of both peace officers and the public,” explained Lt. Sean Scales of NCSO. “As society’s expectations of peace officers change, it is important to ensure the training peace officers are provided with changes to reflect these expectations. This training represents a step in that direction.”

After researching programs and cataloguing best practices, a POST Curriculum specialist, Tamara Floyd, compiled information from a wide variety of curriculum contributors throughout 2019 to organize and structure the curriculum. The course was recognized for its merit and approved through the California Commission on POST Learning Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), making it eligible as a statewide training option for other law enforcement agencies in the future. Several HH staff and peace officers began their training for trainers (TforT) certification in February 2020. Just as the curriculum was approved and the TforT initiated, Covid-19 delayed the launch until trainings could safely occur in-person.

All representatives completed their TforT course by December 2020, and the first two POST trainings were successfully rolled out in March 2021. By design, each training is facilitated by one member of local law enforcement (GVPD or NCSO) and one member of HH. This pairing provides a balanced perspective on homelessness and increases awareness of the unique challenges facing members of each agency and modeling the street team approach. To date, two 16- hour courses trained 24 sworn GVPD officers, one unsworn officer and two social workers. Additional trainings with Nevada County law enforcement agencies are scheduled over the next few months.

Sheriff Shannan Moon noted that all 70 NCSO officers are scheduled to take the training. “Since 2019, at the inception of this collaborative effort with Hospitality House, I have seen this project as a unique opportunity to enhance our partnerships and help create a law enforcement training curriculum specifically addressing best practices and approaches with our homeless community,” she said. “Training for our first responders is critical, and I appreciate that Hospitality House saw the value, importance and committed to administering the POST grant funding.”

Law enforcement officers regularly respond to calls where mental illness and substance use can complicate situations. In these scenarios, a different set of tactics is required to increase effectiveness.

As Bell explained, “This project focused on the critical issue of increasing understanding of mental illness when responding to people in crisis in the community.  By supporting law enforcement with specialized training, particularly in building rapport and connection with individuals who are homeless and possibly struggling with mental illness or substance use, we will help officers and community members stay safe and improve connections to needed services and resources.”

The first training was presented by HH Program Director Isaias Acosta and Lt. Joe Matteoni (GVPD). The second course was conducted by HH Outreach Program Director Joe Naake and Sgt. Brian Blakemore (GVPD). Sheriff’s Lt. Scales and Sheriff’s Sgt. Brandon Corchero will be partnering with HH instructors to lead the next trainings. NCSO and GVPD trainers bring exceptional value to the program, as they have been working alongside HH to further the County’s Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement (HOME) team. HOME identifies, engages, and provides case management and housing support to highly vulnerable homeless individuals, while meeting people where they are at in the community. Law enforcement’s support of HOME increases positive outcomes and housing solutions.

“The Grass Valley Police Department takes our commitment to enhancing our service delivery very seriously,” said Chief Gammelgard, “which is why we were honored to host this training in partnership with Hospitality House. The quality of the instruction by GVPD and HH staff was outstanding, and the takeaways related to de-escalation, emotional intelligence, and empathy-based interviewing will serve our officers and those they serve in a way that supports our core values of dedication, excellence, and partnerships.”

The training was met with overwhelming positive response to date. GVPD officers remarked that it was “a great training with passionate instructors” and the “best de-escalation training (they) have received.” Officer Chris Roberds indicated the training will affect his day-to-day activities, saying in part, “The training reminded me that we are all a couple decisions away from becoming a person experiencing homelessness.”

While the POST curriculum has strengthened the preexisting partnerships between HH, law enforcement and Public Health, HH and GVPD have taken further steps to collaborate. GVPD and HH were awarded a California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grant back in October 2020, which pairs one full-time dedicated GVPD officer and one full-time HH case manager with a background in clinical social work, working side by side daily, and responding together to homeless-related calls for service. The partnership launched in February and puts the POST curriculum into practice by increasing mental health services accessibility to those unsheltered while reducing the potential for homeless-related violence.

“Having a social worker as part of GVPD’s street team breaks down the misconceptions held between homeless individuals and peace officers,” said Naake, regarding CalVIP. “This program is building bridges and increasing connections. One of the added benefits of this partnership with law enforcement is that, over time, the team will learn the names and stories of homeless individuals, understand their issues, and know with which service providers they are working. This will improve rapport and communication during an encounter, decreasing the possibility that the situation will escalate.”

HH and local law enforcement agencies will continue to work together to keep the community safe and provide services to those in need. To help further, the community’s support is always welcome and appreciated. Donations may be made at hhshelter.org, by calling 530-615-0852, or by sending a donation made payable to Hospitality House at 1262 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. To learn more about this program or to become a supporter of Hospitality House, please email info@hhshelter.org or call 530-615-0852.

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