Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Police Offer Panhandlers Chance to Get Help

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Police Offer Panhandlers Chance to Get Help

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- At one table, a thin woman with gray hair was being given a referral for a box of emergency food. A few feet away, a young man with a heroin problem was making arrangements for a ride to a drug detoxification program.

The scene that unfolded on Thursday could have taken place at any one of the many social services agencies in Paterson. But this was happening at police headquarters, and the people seeking help had been brought in for alleged panhandling.

In between their arrests and appearances before a judge, the alleged panhandlers were being offered a detour on Thursday -- a chance to meet with social services program representatives who had gathered in a room usually used for law enforcement training.

"This is truly about solving our issue with homeless and panhandlers," said city Police Director Jerry Speziale. "It's a new way to address those in need and enhance the quality of life for all."

"If we save one person, that's a success," said city police Capt. Richard Reyes. "Instead of trying to incarcerate everyone, we're trying to help them."

The initiative wasn't exactly a get-out-of-jail-free card. The alleged panhandlers still received summonses and had to face the judge. Anyone picked up with serious warrants would be incarcerated, authorities said.

But there also were attempts to show some flexibility. For example, one man brought to headquarters said he was willing to enroll in a 90-day transitional housing program, said police Capt. Lourdes Phelan.

But he also had a minor warrant pending in Clifton. So Paterson police contacted their counterparts in Clifton and worked out an arrangement that would allow the man to enroll in the shelter program.

"This is amazing," said Andrea Rashford of the Miracle Word Outreach Ministries on Auburn Street. "There's such a need in the city of Paterson for human services like this. …

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