Volume 8, Issue 77  |  September 26, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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Meet NBPD’s Homeless Liaison Officer Heather Thomson

On April 22, 2023, Heather Thomson was appointed to the position of Homeless Liaison Officer with the Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD). In this special assignment, Officer Thomson works directly with people experiencing homelessness who reside in the City of Newport Beach. She is part of a team that links those individuals to outside resources, including medical care, mental health assessments and treatment, housing opportunities (both shelters and permanent supportive housing), family reunifications and entry into addiction/recovery programs. Her goal is to help each person experiencing homelessness find themselves in a healthier and more sustainable way of life.

Keep reading to hear more from Officer Thomson about her job working with individuals experiencing homelessness in our city.

Meet NBPDs homeless Thomson

Click on photo for a larger image

Photos courtesy of NBPD

NBPD Homeless Liaison Officer Heather Thomson

Q: Can you share a little bit about your background?

A: I have been a police officer for the City of Newport Beach since June 2018. Prior to my employment with the Newport Beach Police Department, I was a California State Park Peace Officer at Folsom Lake for two years. During that time, I had several different assignments, including boat operator, weapons inspector, rescue/recovery dive team and was a member of the K9 team. In addition to my assignment as Homeless Liaison Officer (HLO), I serve the department as a defensive tactics instructor, First Aid and CPR instructor and honor guard member.

Q: What made you decide to pursue the role of Homeless Liaison Officer?

A: I was fortunate to be selected for the Peninsula Enforcement Team (PET Team) in December 2021. The team is comprised of three bike patrol officers, a homeless liaison officer and a sergeant. The PET team is responsible for addressing quality-of-life issues including boardwalk safety and individuals experiencing homelessness. Through that position, I got to know the local homeless population and developed a rapport with many of them. I started working with my amazing predecessor, former Homeless Liaison Officer Cynthia Carter, and was inspired by the work she was doing with the homeless population.

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

A: It depends on the individuals I am helping at that time. I work in partnership with City Net, Be Well, OC Housing Authority, PET Team and different departments within the city. I visit our shelter in Costa Mesa – the Costa Mesa Bridge Shelter – at least once a week to check in with our individuals staying there. I also do outreach throughout the city, by contacting our existing homeless individuals and meeting new ones that come to Newport on a regular basis. Other times, I may be in my office, getting caught up on emails/phone calls and to touch base with our partner agencies and other resources.

Meet NBPDs homeless Thomson and Be Well

Officer Thomson (right) working with members of Be Well OC

Q: What do you enjoy about your job?

A: This position is an opportunity to help some willing individuals who want to improve their life. Not all individuals experiencing homelessness want help or assistance, but for the ones who do, it is an opportunity for them to turn their life around. It is also an opportunity to get to work with a lot of other outside entities and staff from other City of Newport Beach departments.

Q: Do you have any success stories or highlights from your first couple of months on the job?

A: I have helped a few individuals who were initially unwilling to go to a shelter, and over time, with outreach, have accepted a shelter bed and are currently still there.

Q: What is a common misconception people have about your work?

A: That I can just “arrest” or “remove” the homeless from our city. These individuals are human beings and all have a story. They have rights as homeless individuals and we simply cannot just arrest them for being homeless. Being homeless or mentally ill is not a crime. We work closely with our city attorney’s office to ensure best practices. There are many legal guidelines that we must uphold when it comes to enforcement with the homeless population. We are constantly navigating the evolving laws, both statewide and citywide. This is a state and national challenge, not just a Newport Beach issue.

Meet NBPDs homeless Thomson honor guard

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Along with her Homeless Liaison role, Officer Hamilton also is a member of the NBPD Honor Guard

Q: What is one thing related to your work that you wish more people knew?

A: Bringing homeless individuals gifts such as money, tents, food, alcohol, etc. actually undermines our efforts to connect them to vital resources. These gifts give them a reason to stay where they are. While it is well intentioned to want to help, we ask that the public donate to the “Good Giving” campaign to help in a positive way. The city uses Good Giving donations to help people get housed and stay housed. You can learn more at www.newportbeachca.gov/give. The page also lists local nonprofit groups such as Save Our Selves (SOS) that provide food and connections to medical and mental health resources.

To learn more about the City of Newport Beach’s efforts in addressing homelessness, see the city website here.

Editor’s Note: This is an ongoing series of community information provided by the Newport Beach Police Department.

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