Compassion not crackdown: San Pablo police conduct homeless outreach

San Pablo police said a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it legal to take down homeless encampments is not the approach they want to take. 

The department described its special unit dedicated to doing outreach to the homeless and those with mental health issues as a success. 

The officers involved said partnering with nonprofits has helped them build trust with the homeless.  

A KTVU crew went with police officers and the nonprofit Arthur Jean Safe Place on Tuesday as they did outreach at a homeless encampment. 

They said compassion instead of a crackdown can go a long way.

Officer Jose Soriano is a member of a special 5-person unit which focuses on outreach work.

Each officer volunteered for this assignment.

"Everybody has a reason for being in the position they're in. I grew up here in San Pablo poor, but I was able to succeed," said Soriano.  

Officers joined Sharon Alexander, founder of Arthur Jean, and her volunteers as they did outreach, offering essential items and services. 


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She said she has been working with San Pablo police for three years. During that time,  she became homeless herself at one point for three months.

"There's something about when you walk in somebody else's shoes," Alexander credits police with helping her get back on her feet by connecting her with another nonprofit that provided her with housing.

She said the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it legal for cities to take down encampments in public spaces makes it crucial to help the homeless. 

"They have no other place to go. Where do they expect us to put the unsheltered?" questioned Alexander.  

"For a lot of us,  it wasn't our choice to be out here like this," said Tina Qualls who lives at the encampment.

She said she lost everything due to her struggle with substance abuse.

Police said the high court's ruling will not change the way San Pablo deals with the homeless.

"If there is a health risk, we do work with our public works department to remove the encampment.  Our goal is not to do that. Our goal is outreach," said Police Capt. James Laughter.  

Qualls said she welcomes police partnering with a nonprofit to come to the encampment to help.

"Most people , they stare at you like you're less than," said Qualls. "For them to come down here to give us food and everything, that gives hope.  That gives a little bit of a ray of sunshine."  

The outreach officers said they go out 7 days a week and partner with nonprofits every few months to build rapport and trust with the homeless.

Qualls said she is working with a nonprofit to get into housing with the hope that there has to be a better way than to live out in the elements.

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Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU