They’re our residents without residences. We’ve all seen those who are living out on the streets, which we commonly refer to as “the homeless,” “transients,” or “vagrants.” The reality is, becoming homeless can happen to anyone, at anytime. In fact, with more and more people living paycheck to paycheck due to the cost of living here in southern California, it is a reality.
About a year ago, the Azusa Police Department started a ground-breaking program called the “HALO” program. HALO stands for “Homeless Assistance Liaison Officer.” These officers have received special training and become well versed in the many facets of homelessness, and the services available throughout the county of Los Angeles. Corporal Andy Rodriguez and Officer Kyle Bailey were selected for the HALO program, and with over 50 years of combined experience, and ties to the community, are the right fit for the job.
In working with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano’s office, representatives from L.A. County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs - West Los Angeles Office, the US Army Corp. of Engineers, and various homeless outreach groups, Corporal Rodriguez and Officer Bailey gained valuable insight and connections for the city of Azusa in addressing the homeless situation in Azusa.
Mr. James Kitto thanks Officer Kyle Bailey (right) and Corporal Andy Rodriguez.
A Veteran Is Identified
Throughout the year, the police department has completed sweeps of the San Gabriel Valley riverbed, which is between the city of Azusa and Duarte. These sweeps are conducted to educate the homeless population on the dangers of living in the riverbed, as well as to notify them of the legal issues with trespassing into the riverbed.
During one sweep, Corporal Rodriguez and Officer Bailey met Mr. James Kitto. The officers were familiar with James, as he has been in Azusa for 10 years, living out of tents and make-shift shelters. In speaking with James, Officer Bailey learned he was a veteran, having served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.
Using some of the newfound resources, Officer Bailey reached out to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and learned they had the Community Engagement and Reintegration Services Outreach and Housing unit. Officer Bailey spoke with Dominic Lopez, and together, they began the process of looking into James’ veteran benefits.
The Outreach Begins
On November 6th, 2015, Dominic came out to Azusa and met with James. After a brief discussion, Dominic gave James a ride to an event at the VA’s West Los Angeles campus known as a “Stand Down.” At the event, James was able to discover and apply for benefits he did not know he was entitled to, due to his previous combat experience. After a long, but positive day, Dominic brought James back to Azusa.
Through the next few months, Corporal Rodriguez, Officer Bailey and Dominic worked on James’ case to make sure it was processed efficiently through the sometimes complex procedures of the VA.
At one point, Corporal Rodriguez discovered a service which wanted to help James out, however, it turned out to be a scam. Thankfully, with Corporal Rodriguez’ experience working as a detective in the property crimes unit, he was able to steer James clear of becoming a victim. Instead, Corporal Rodriguez enlisted the assistance of Covina Field of Valor, a local non-profit group dedicated to helping veterans.
James Kitto's residence in the San Gabriel Valley Riverbed prior to moving out.
A New Beginning
After securing James a new residence through his benefits with the VA, they notified James they would provide transportation and assistance in transitioning into his new life.
Monday, January 22nd, 2016, was the beginning of a new life for James. At about 9 in the morning, the HALO team, accompanied by Dominic and Gary Anthony, who is another valuable member of the VA, walked in the quarter mile of brush to where James has called home for the last few years.
Once they arrived at his site, they met with James, who gathered some of his belongings and was ready to go.
With the help of the Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Campus Safety, arrangements were made to provide James with a place he could shower, before being provided a new set of clothes.
After some handshakes, James left with Dominic and Gary for the ride to his new residence. On March 10, James officially moved into his new apartment and ended his life of homelessness.
A Team Effort
The Azusa Police Department is extremely grateful for the services and support provided by the various entities who worked with our HALO team to facilitate the help given to not only a member of our community, but a veteran of our armed forces.
Of particular note, is the efforts of City of Azusa Community Resource Coordinator, Yasmin Cardona-Byrne. Yasmin worked hard and diligently with James in finding him VA qualified housing. Thanks to an organization called Field of Valor, they stepped up and helped with the financial obligation of helping James out in terms of securing a residence and obtaining some basic household items. They also reached out to a local business who expressed a desire to help a veteran.
Where Do We Go From Here?
James will continue to work closely with Gary Anthony and the Veterans Affairs Office as he transitions his life from once being homeless.
Although James’ story was unique in that he had veteran’s benefits waiting for him that he was unaware of, our HALO team strives to help those members of our community who are homeless. Resources are available for all those wanting help and who are willing to work with our officers to find a solution to their particular predicament. At the same time the Azusa PD HALO program will continue to strive for a balance of servicing the needs of our homeless population, while addressing community concerns associated with homelessness.