VACAVILLE (CBS13) — Homelessness is a growing problem for many communities, and the cost to taxpayers is going up.
But in Vacaville, the number of chronic homeless is actually going down.
"We realize that we can't arrest our way out of homelessness. No city can," said Lt. Mark Donaldson with Vacaville Police.
Which is why the department is trying something new: a dedicated team of officers and a social worker are helping homeless off the streets.
"It took us a while to get them to understand that we are not messing with them, we're not trying to trick them, we really are trying to help them," said Sgt. Dave Kellis with Vacaville Police.
It's known as the Community Response Unit (CRU) and includes Kellis, Det. Kevin Foderaro, a homeless outreach coordinator, Nicole Arances, and one other officer.
They've been on the beat for a little over a year, and their efforts are having an impact.
"I've been doing this job for almost 19 years now, but I've never worked in Assignment where I felt like I was making a difference for the community every day I drive down the street," Kellis said, adding it's an amazing feeling to be with the CRU.
The result? A 20 percent reduction in the number of homeless.
So how do these officers help?
"Unlike our patrol officers, they are not tied to the radio. They're actively going out to engage and communicate with our homeless neighbors, they are building relationships and rapport with them," Lt. Donaldson said.
Camille Sanford is one of the chronic homeless they're trying to place in permanent housing.
"They've helped me out with detox. They've helped me out with getting me to the Opportunity House," she said.
It also costs taxpayers $1 million annually -- from emergency calls to cleaning up homeless camps.
One success has been a bamboo grove on private property. Last year it was filled with tents and trash, but now it's no longer a neighborhood nuisance.
"I really feel like we are making a positive change," Kellis said.
Even people in the popular downtown park have noticed the homeless problems are not nearly as bad.
"They were finding needles and people laying around sleeping, not family-friendly," said Christine Ferraris who used to live across the street. "A big shout out and kudos to them. We have a really good police department."
Many homeless no longer fear their contact with cops knowing these officers come offering help instead of handcuffs.
For the homeless who are arrested, the city is now considering a new neighborhood court to try to counsel those found guilty and keep them out of jail.
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