SARASOTA, Fla. -- For the past two and a half months, Sarasota Police have tried a new approach to reduce the homeless population in the city. Police Chief Bernadette Dipino has introduced the "HOT" team, or the Homeless Outreach Team.
The four-person crew includes a licensed mental health professional, Calvin Collins, whose past includes counseling inmates in the Sarasota County Jail. Collins says he likes his current role, since he can see more tangible improvements.
"I think it's the ultimate, we're helping people," Collins said.
On this particular morning, Collins introduced himself to Heather Skipington who identified as a college graduate from Indiana who has spent the past four years living in the woods. She likes the idea of police trying to help.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful. The community does need to have a 'reach out,'" she said.
Collins says many of the homeless just need a little nudge.
"Many of them have been lulled into mediocrity and hopelessness. So we have to go in and ignite that with encouraging words," he said.
Calvin works alongside Officer Dave Dubendorf who was a homeless liaison for several years before SPD began the HOT team approach.
He loves his role and looks forward to the good days.
"The ones that are really good are the ones where they tell you no' over and over and after 100 contacts finally say, 'hey, I'm ready.' Those are the good ones," Dubendorf said with a smile.
Dubendorf and Collins try to refer the homeless to one of several area nonprofits.