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Fullerton’s new approach to helping homeless paying off

by FullertonPoliceNews

The items may seem small: A pair of sweats. A voucher to stay overnight at a motel. Socks.

[Raul, pictured with Avena and DeCaprio, is a veteran who was reunited with family in Florida, thanks to the Coast to Coast and FPD partnership. He's working in hospitality. (photo courtesy Coast to Coast)]

But the impact is huge for a homeless person – especially one stranded in a rainstorm at 3 a.m.

"I appreciate what police officers do," said Marie Avena, founder of Coast to Coast Foundation. “I feel badly that they have to take care of the stuff we don’t want to take care of in society.”

So the Yorba Linda realtor did something about it.

About two years ago, she created “Homeless Liaison Kits,” and loaded lockers at the police department with bus vouchers, clothing and restaurant gift cards so police officers have access to whatever they need to serve the homeless – whenever they need it. She lined up dozens of volunteers who are available every day for a police “hand off” if somebody wants help.

Perhaps most important, her partnership with the Fullerton Police Department is changing the way law enforcement in Orange County deal with homeless people. Already, Anaheim has set up a similar program and other agencies are inquiring.

“I was lucky if I had two minutes to try to help somebody,” said John “JD” DeCaprio, FPD’s Homeless Liaison Officer.

DeCaprio is busier than ever. Thanks to Avena and Coast to Coast, he no longer races from call to call without being able to provide somebody who wants to get off the streets with hope – and even if they don’t, he can offer those who’ve lost everything a hot meal.