By Cutter Hicks
When police officer Gina Bell arrived on-scene at one of Woodland’s homeless hot spots during a recent cruise, the first thing she checked on was their health.
“Are you in need of service?” Bell asks of a group of men seated around a picnic table during her daily peruse of Freeman Park.
As she drives from block to block, monitoring Woodland’s homeless population, Bell creates a mindset of helping, not hurting.
“They are people too, and some feel that they don’t belong,” she said simply before leaving the office dressed in her brown shirt and green pants, which designate the Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) from regular patrol staff who are dressed in traditional blue. “It breaks my heart since we are trying to help them.”
A 2017 study concluded that an average of 131 persons in Woodland were homeless every night. Those members of HOST have now updated the numbers to 275 with Freeman Park becoming ground zero for many due to its proximity to Fourth & Hope, a homeless shelter that specializes in addiction recovery while offering food, showers, and living quarters.
However, homeless people — some of them with mental health or drug issues — can be found scattered throughout the community.
One misconception that police hear from the public is that they’re not putting in effort to help the homeless. This couldn’t be further from the truth, explained Sgt. Brett Hancock, who is in charge of the department’s HOST group.