“It’s a calling.”
W. Michael Phibbs
Fortunately, most people will never experience being homeless or living on the street. Once homeless, the challenges of finding a new place to live, receive proper medical care, or simply to survive may seem dauntless. To help those in need, The Richmond Police Department (RPD) created the Homeless Outreach Partnership Enforcement Unit (HOPE Unit) to partner with multiple organizations, including Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) and the Daily Planet Health Services, with the goal of getting people connected with the correct services they need and ultimately eliminating homelessness in the city.
On a quiet September afternoon, Officers’ Jason Kuti and Matthew McHugh from the HOPE Unit accompany Taylor Garrett as she searches for homeless individuals in need of health services. Garrett is the Outreach Coordinator for the Daily Planet Health Services and she relies on the HOPE Unit to assist her in locating people who are homeless and can benefit from the many services available in the city. Today they are looking for an encampment on a small island in the middle of the James River. Kuti and McHugh have been assigned to the HOPE Unit for years and know precisely where to lead Garrett. This day was a success; they found an individual who needed services, and Garrett was able to set them up with appointments. A few days later, Kuti and McHugh followed up with him to ensure that he made it to his medical appointment on time.
Garrett explained that it might feel overwhelming for an officer to begin the process of helping a person in need. The system can be complicated, but through years of experience, Kuti and McHugh know the right person in each agency to call to connect people with the right services. Working together, the trio have had great success getting housing for people who had been openly living near the intersection of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Broad Street. Arranging for housing not only has a positive impact on the individuals, who now have a place to stay, but also the community at large.
As the Chief Executive Officer of CCC, Jay Brown sees the role Kuti and McHugh play from a broader context. CCC has a point of entry to get people enrolled in the process to find housing. Kuti and McHugh often bring people to the facility where the individual can connect with a counselor to find the right resources to meet the individual’s needs. Sometimes it takes more time to get the person the right services or housing. When the proper services open up, the individual may be already back on the street. Brown can rely on Kuti and McHugh to go out and find the individual and bring him back to the facility to get them on the path for a brighter tomorrow. Brown shared a significant success in working with Kuti and McHugh, and other organizations, on a push to get people out of the cold weather shelter and into permanent housing. He said, “Those are folks will no longer have to come into the city’s cold weather shelter this coming winter but will have an apartment of their own.”
Brown is grateful for RPD for making sure this continues to be a priority. Brown explained the tremendous impact Kuti and McHugh have on a vulnerable population, saying, “In my experience both of them are servants. They are here to serve, and they take it very seriously. It’s a calling for both of them.”