LA's Homeless Outreach Team takes to streets to help those in need

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Here in Southern California, outreach teams are on the front lines of the homeless crisis. Their job is to reach as many homeless people as possible and get them off the streets.

To get an in-depth look at how they work, Marc Brown went out with one of those teams to see how they're literally saving lives.

The team from the Homeless Outreach Program is in downtown Los Angeles, where Main Street crosses over the 101 Freeway.

They suddenly come across a homeless woman, sitting on the railing, her left feet dangling over the freeway below.

She's threatening to take her own life.

Outreach team member Sieglinde von Deffner is a clinician and program manager.

Von Deffner said, "She was incredibly despondent. She was sobbing, really in crisis."

"She was dangling her legs off the ledge, saying it was better to end it all than to go on living. She was saying she was gonna jump, basically," said Charlie Gomez, a case manager on the outreach team.

Gomez and von Deffner just happened to be in the area. But they are familiar sights.

"I have a relationship with this person. I work in the area," Gomez said. "I've probably talked to this person seven or eight times. So she knows me."

After about five heart-pounding minutes, they talk the woman down from the edge.

All in a day's work for this homeless outreach team.

One of 43 scattered across the county.

Their job is to find the most vulnerable among the homeless; the old, the sick, the addicted, those most likely to die on the streets. And get them help.

Negeen Farmand is a physician assistant and a member of the team.

She does an assessment on a homeless person whom she comes across.

"Do you go days without eating anything at all?" Farmand asks.

The reply: "Sometimes I eat from the trash. For me, it's very easy. It's less dangerous for me than moving around."

The teams typically feature a doctor or physician assistant, along with an addiction specialist, mental health expert, and social workers who specialize in obtaining services.

The team runs across another person, named Benito. He's diabetic and legally blind.

In an encampment about a block away, a man named Michael talks to his case worker.

He's been homeless for a few weeks, and is anxious to get off the streets.

"I know I'm gonna get housing, man. You believe in God? Yeah. So do I. I believe in her, too. She's doing a good job," Michael said.

Then, there's Joe. He's a former realtor who dropped out years ago, after a bad divorce and a business deal that went sour.

Addiction specialist Sean Romin asks him what he can bring him on their next visit.

"Do you need any clothing?" Romin asks.

Michael tells him, "I could use a pair of jeans."

Romin asks about the size, then offers to also bring underwear and socks next week when he's back.

Last year, Joe was all set for temporary housing. In the middle of signing the paperwork, he turned it down.

Team member Sean Romin explains why.

"Traditional shelters, as it turns out, are dangerous places. This is something that I've learned from my clients," Romin said.

"That it's better to take your chances, find a nook or cranny, you can sleep in or a tent, rather than taking a chance on a shelter, because you can get hurt, all your stuff can get taken, or other things can happen."

Months later, Joe is starting to reconsider.

We ask Romin what are the chances Joe will end up in a place where he's got a roof over his head.

Romin answers, "He absolutely will. Because I will see to it".

The country's homeless outreach teams have contacted 15,000 people in the last two years. They're seeing results, but it's going to take time for homeless encampments like so many scattered throughout the city to disappear for good.

"You're gonna see it. We're doing it every day," von Deffner said. "We're touching people in ways that they've never gotten wrapped around before. We're working with the most vulnerable people, the folks that have been on the streets the longest, and we're building relationships and we're getting there."

Like the woman they talked down from the ledge.

They say it's about establishing trust and getting people who've lost hope to understand that there's something better than the life they're living.

If you want to help, or come across someone who needs help go to LA-HOP.org

Follow the directions, and they'll send an outreach team.
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