VPD's Jodyne Keller reaches out to city's homeless

Jodyne Keller, photo by Zi-Ann Lum; Homeless person, photo by Thomas Quine via creative commons

On January 4th, the Vancouver Police Department held a press conference to familiarize the media with the work of Constable Jodyne Keller, VPD’s Homeless Outreach Coordinator. Keller is responsible for aiming to reduce the number of homeless out on the streets.

Since 2009, the number of homeless on Vancouver’s streets has increased from 1,500 to almost 1,800, despite police and city efforts.

Just a day before the conference, Environment Canada had issued a “significant snowfall” warning for the Metro Vancouver region Tuesday evening.

When announcements of extreme weather are made, officers like Keller hit the streets with sleeping bags, socks, juice boxes and granola bars. “I want to make sure that they’re healthy, they’re alive,” she said.

Keller was appointed to the position two years ago, just after a 47-year old homeless woman named Tracey was burned to death while trying to keep warm in her shopping cart shelter. Tracey’s death served as a catalyst for the police department and City Hall to green light existing homeless outreach and shelter programs.

“We knew we needed to form outreach,” Keller said.

Many police officers like Keller who patrol the streets make an effort to connect with the homeless, while other people “simply walk by,” she said.

“A lot of times I work with Leslie Wyatt with the Ministry of Social Development. And together, in a partnership, we can go out and we can connect with the homeless community,” Keller said in a video provided by VPD.

One obstacle that Keller noted was the difficulty of getting people into the shelters. When asked why the department and the city are having trouble moving the homeless into shelters, Keller attributed the challenge as stemming from a “lack of trust.” “When there’s trust, we can take the next step forward,” Keller added.

“Some people don’t want to go to the shelters because of the rumours,” Keller said.

These rumours are based on stories of police brutality and corruption within the department that are spread by the media and by word-of-mouth. Media coverage of incidents of police brutality has affected the department’s reputation in the eyes of the public, including the homeless, said Keller.

This stigma has partly made police and city efforts fall short of achieving their goal of getting all those who are homeless into shelters.

“The big goal is to get these people housed. A person that’s housed is safer. So we’re accomplishing our goals within the police department and making sure that our community is safe,” Keller said in a video.

“If we can house people and get them inside and connect them with the resources that are out there, then I think we serve the community as a whole,” she said.

See video

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