VIDEO: Tarpon Police Hit Streets to Help Homeless
The Tarpon Springs Police Department is doing its best in offering positive alternatives for the local homeless community.
Almost 200 people have been helped off the streets of Tarpon Springs in the past three years thanks to the help of a patrol officer, a mental health caseworker and other resources around town.
The Tarpon Springs Police Department expanded Officer Jose Yourgules' role in 2010. His added duties included the title of Homeless Outreach Officer.
"Yourgules has a real knack for dealing with these people," Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen said.
A handful of cities in Pinellas County have Homeless Outreach teams, but Yourgules, 46, is the lone Outreach Officer in Tarpon Springs due to the size of the department and the city.
"I am the team in Tarpon Springs," Yourgules explained.
Yourgules' Mondays are married to the streets of Tarpon Springs, from visiting homeless camps to keeping an eye on his potential successes.
Part of the job involves Yourgules meeting new members of the homeless community and talking to them about the alternatives that are available.
Rehabilitative services, counseling and job training are some of the free offerings. But more often than not, it's still not enough to deter people from the homeless lifestyle, according to Yourgules.
"You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped," Yourgules explained.
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In Tarpon Springs, homeless are able to receive a free, hot meal seven days a week at a few different facilities, including St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, St. Timothy's Lutheran Church and the Community Building across from City Hall.
Three days a week, G.R.A.C.E. Chapel opens its doors to the homeless for free showers, a meal and the freedom to use a washer and dryer.
The Tarpon Springs Shepherd Center also offers a number of outreach programs including food, clothing and even furniture.
Yourgules said the rate of success is never predictable.
He said that one week there could be five people looking for a way out followed by a week of no activity.
Yourgules and other officers have a flyer they hand out to locals that distinguishes the difference between a hand up and a handout.
According to Yourgules, handouts only multiply the homeless issue.
Instead of giving away cash, Tarpon Springs residents are encouraged to donate to one of these local facilities:
Although the reward of helping a fellow citizen find stability is hefty, the majority of the homeless community are content as is, according to Officer Yourgules.
"They're comfortable with us and they'll talk to us, but they don't always tell us what we want to hear," Yourgules said. "We want to hear that they're ready to leave the street and try something."
Nevertheless, Yourgules stays focused on the mission at hand: helping the homeless.