Police Department briefs community on homelessness in the city
By Taylor J. Hale
STEVENS POINT – Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner gave a presentation on the community’s homeless and at-risk population during a Police and Fire Commission meeting on Nov. 5.
The presentation showed a clear trend of mental health and substance abuse issues within the area’s vulnerable homeless population.
“This is not a new concern that we have experienced — we are witnessing an increase statistically,” Zenner said.
In 2018, 142 entries were filed into the department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system pertaining to suspicious activities, welfare checks, extra patrol calls, and other situations related to vagrancy. The department projects 158 entries for 2019, with 116 as of Sept. 23.
The increase in both the number of homeless individuals and the frequency of police call-ins has prompted law enforcement to reach out to the community to assist in aiding the displaced population of Stevens Point.
Who is affected
Zenner said that the department has been tracking and communicating with over 16 homeless individuals in the area to learn more about the growing vagrant population in the city. That number continues to rise each month.
Of the original 16 individuals first tracked by the police, there were 13 males and three females, with one married couple. Nine of the 16 people are living unsheltered on the streets; four are living in vehicles; one lives intermittently with family; one is “couch surfing;” and one individual was living in subsidized housing before being arrested earlier this year.
What and where they come from
The data shows that the bulk of the displaced population in the city is from Wisconsin. Nine individuals were connected to Portage County by family or marriage; one came from Manitowoc County; two are from Wood County; one was a former Stevens Point local; one came from Texas; and two individuals are identified as “unknown connections.”
Many in the vagrant population have been in the city for five years or more, according to police findings.
The canvassing displays a clear trend in substance abuse and mental health issues. Nine of the 16 individuals have documented entries for mental health commitments or evaluations. Fourteen individuals from the canvassing have documented drug or alcohol abuse problems, with the remaining two having no documented cases, but are suspected drug users.
The department identified key areas throughout the city as “daily destinations and hangouts” for the transient population. These locations are where a high-volume of homeless individuals has been reported. Zenner noted these are not problem areas regarding the overall crime rate, and that the location “landmarks,’ are used to identify call-in areas, not specific establishments.
The Library on Main Street
Zenner said that the library is a hotspot for the displaced in the area due to its location downtown and its provided shelter. The library has experienced a large number of homeless related reports, placing it at the city’s 12th highest calls for service location.
Officers noted the alleyway next to the library is seen as a “safe sleeping area” by the homeless population due to its public location and overnight lighting. Sleeping at this location is illegal.
The library was ranked 27th in calls for service in 2015.
According to data, the forested area around Mead Park is being utilized as illegal campsites. Zenner noted that the location is referred to as “tent city” by some in Portage County. Police department leaders are worried about illegal campfires and littering while squatters occupy the park’s forest. Mead Park is the city’s 14th highest calls for service location. The park was ranked 38th in 2015.
Stevens Point Salvation Army
The department’s presentation noted that while some vagrant individuals may not spend the night at the Salvation Army, they still utilize the organization’s daily services.
Zenner pointed out the high number of displaced individuals coming from around the county to use the free services have put the Salvation Army at the city’s seventh-highest calls for service location, up from 27th in 2015.
To watch the full Stevens Point Police Department presentation, visit: https://www.facebook.com/StevensPointPD/videos/1357794234395787/?epa=SEARCH_BOX.