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Leon sheriff deputies are working to build trust with the area's homeless

Two grocery carts abandoned in a wooded area, next to a tree.
Lynn Hatter
One way law enforcement and social services agencies locate unhoused people is by tracking where abandoned grocery carts are. They're often used to mark an entrance to an encampment.

The Leon County Sheriff’s Office has a new team of deputies to connect with homeless people and help them get services. The team was announced last month and has started making the rounds. They're learning there's already one major obstacle to helping the people they're trying to reach: trust.

"[We] just sit down, talk to people, find out whatever they’ll tell you, their history, where they came from… Maybe what happened in their family? Why they became homeless? You know, those things are key to us, one— building those relationships and two—being able to link them to the services that most appropriately fit them," said Deputy Paul Pacchiolli, one of the two deputies assigned to the HOST program.

The mission of HOST—the Homeless Outreach Street Team— is to inform people living on the street about the services and support they could be getting. But it doesn't happen overnight, and Pacchiolli says his job is repetitive -- going back again and again to build a relationship.

We all understand that homelessness is a very complex issue and we also understand too that we cannot solve it with a law enforcement response," Assistant Sheriff Argatha Gilmore told WFSU last month in an interview about the program.

"But if we work together and we collaborate together we certainly can make a difference to reduce the impact of homelessness in our area.”

The Leon County Commission is providing the funding for HOST.

The program is part of local efforts to address a growing number of people who lack housing—an issue that became prominent last year amid a fight between the city and the City Walk Urban Mission which saw its request for a permit to operate a permanent shelter on Mahan Drive, denied.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.