There’s no perfect answer on how to combat homelessness but the Cathedral City Police Department thinks they are on the right track. Homeless Liaison, Officer Dwayne Hodge, spends most of his days surveying the streets and making connections with homeless individuals.
One of Hodge’s most successful cases thus far is Gary Brandenburg.
“It flips into a bed, you notice,” Gary said as he showed his “trustee bike” he used as a home for forty years on the streets.
“Maybe I would’ve been a doctor or a lawyer or a jockey or something,” he said. “They got me to the city and I got lost in the wrong crowd.”
Gary attributes being homeless to his upbringing but over time, he started to thoroughly enjoy the lifestyle.
“I felt like I had more freedom, you know, when you’re out there,” he said. “But a lot more responsibilities too, it’s kind of hard. There’s a lot of crazy people.”
Gary constantly struggled on the streets until he met Officer Hodge.
“He called himself a camper, he did not want a roof over his head,” Hodge said.
When Cathedral City decided to start a homelessness unit in the police department, Hodge felt called to the position.
“They needed somebody to do it and I felt I had the knowledge of the city being here for 54 years,” Hodge said.
Hodge said he knows as well as anybody, homelessness is a growing epidemic in the Coachella Valley.
“We have a lot coming from other areas, we’ve got the camp closure in Coachella. Once that closed, it spread them out and you’ve got the Santa Ana river, which was the biggest camp, that closed.”
The liaison said when there’s closures, it forces everybody to go another route. Unfortunately, Hodge said lack of resources isn’t the problem but getting people to accept the offered resources is.
“It’s difficult, even to contact somebody five or six times, they won’t even talk to you about services,” Hodge said.
It took Hodge several times to finally convince Gary to accept resources.
“They can receive their welfare, receive their benefits, SSI, still be on the streets, afford their drugs, illicit drugs, if you will, and they don’t have to worry about it because it’s a site and release in the field for the most part,” he said.
He related it to a traffic citation. Plus, homeless people with mental health issues stemmed from drugs can sometimes be taken to the hospital and be released within an hour.
“They’re supposed to hold them within 72 hours but that doesn’t always happen,” Hodge said with a sigh.
Therefore, finally convincing them to accept resources is usually a last case scenario.
“Similar to an alcoholic or a drug addict, they’re tired of being tired, they’re tired of being on the streets, they accept our services, they go along with the program, they do the steps necessary with them to receive shelter or receive a job in order to get shelter,” Hodge said.
Gary’s case was a success story.
“It was time for me to get off the streets. I’m not getting any younger,” Gary said.
After months of visits from Hodge and other officers Gary said it was time to make a change.
“He told me I’m like your little brother, I took it in and went with what he said and I ended up like this,” Gary said.
He moved in to a real home but the transition wasn’t always easy.
“I’ve been outdoors for so long you get used to that,” Gary said. “So coming indoors is like claustrophobia, you know.”
To make it feel more like home he brought along his most valuable possessions like his travel buddy and partner, Zoomer, a plastic toy dog.
Hodge and other officers frequently check up on Gary to make sure he stays on track. Gary has a full house included with a kitchen, living room, bathroom and patio.
“I’ve got a patio and I figure if I wanna sleep outside, I’ll sleep on the patio,” he said with a chuckle. For old time’s sake.
Gary has been off the streets for about a year now. When people like him agree to a program, they are automatically connected with a local organization in the community, including the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission.