RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — When Raleigh police respond to a call, they sometimes find a night in jail or a citation isn’t always the best solution. People caught trespassing may need help getting into permanent housing rather than a criminal punishment.
The city’s ACORNS unit, which stands for Addressing Crises through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service, is a team of police officers and social workers that help connect people with resources. The goal is to address core issues to keep people out of trouble.
On Tuesday, the unit announced they’ve helped 993 people through their work. Sergeant Renee Lockhart says the team has helped people with issues of homelessness, substance abuse and mental health.
“We know that things are complicated. It’s a journey. We’re still doing check-ins,” said Lockhart.
Social workers and officers on the team do regular check-ins with people to ensure they remain connected with resources or find programs that better fit their needs. Three new social workers were added to the team this year.
Lockhart shared a story of a homeless person they recently helped.
“This person has been trespassed from several hotels and discharged from several programs but the ACORNS detective and ACORNS social worker have been engaged with this person for a year and a half and I’m happy to report that this person was housed on October 23,” said Lockhart.
She said finding permanent housing may not have been possible without the work of the ACORNS team.
Moving ahead, the team wants to expand their reach. They hope to establish a crisis diversion line that would route through the 911 center. On the other end of the phone would be a clinician equipped to connect a person with resources or de-escalate a problem they may be experiencing.
In addition, the team is considering a partnership with the county to increase resources available to folks they come into contact with. A look at similar programs around the country found the most robust programs were in partnership with the city.
“I’m just gonna put the word out to my Wake County partners, ‘Hey please join us. We really need to work together’,” said councilmember Jane Harrison.
The city has heard comments in the past from people concerned the unit was housed under police rather than a social services department. Speaking during public comment periods in the past, some people worried having police officers involved may make some people apprehensive about seeking help.
On Tuesday, city staff recommended the department stay under the police department.
“What we have found is a lot of the social workers are entering in situations where law enforcement is critical and as you have seen in some of the success stories, they know the law and they know how to navigate some of the resources that at this point does not have access to, said Michelle Malette, with the city manager’s office.