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Mike Lambert: Police captain who spearheads HPD’s innovative approaches to helping the homeless adjusts to COVID-19 restrictions

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                                Honolulu Police Department Capt. Mike Lambert, who heads up HPD’s homeless initiatives, stood outside the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) facility at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park last week. The POST facility is an offshoot of the HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons) effort, which was established last year to provide short-term shelter and social services to the homeless in public parks.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Honolulu Police Department Capt. Mike Lambert, who heads up HPD’s homeless initiatives, stood outside the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) facility at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park last week. The POST facility is an offshoot of the HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons) effort, which was established last year to provide short-term shelter and social services to the homeless in public parks.

Can HONU centers, which provide large-tent shelter as well as outreach services in public parks, operate in the current pandemic environment?

The Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons (HONU) program was primarily created to increase the availability of overnight bed space when shelters are full or when a person wanted to go to a shelter outside of the normal intake hours. It gives patrol officers a shelter option when trying to help a homeless individual.

When the pandemic started, the HONU program was unable to quickly transition people because the shelters were adjusting their capacity to follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for social distancing. Also, some of the shelters were not comfortable taking in new clients without some sort of prior self-quarantine or testing. This made it difficult to make placements quickly, and HONU turned into an emergency shelter instead of a pass-through facility as originally conceived. Also, HONU does not have the ability to support the medical screenings necessary for COVID-19.

Thus the HONU program transitioned to a POST (Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage) model that notably has the resources for self-quarantine, social distancing and periodic medical screenings.

How does POST compare to HONU in its ability to reach the unsheltered and provide them with services?

POST and HONU have the ability to connect the unsheltered community with services, and both utilize the coordinated efforts of police officers and social workers. The primary difference is whether an individual is willing to adhere to the 15-day self-quarantine that requires staying on site for the entire period without leaving. As of June 22, more than 250 individuals had received at least one night of services, and 112 individuals had been placed in a conventional shelters. Those who do not complete the quarantine have a variety of reasons, including substance dependency, anxiety or restlessness. As the emergency proclamation restrictions have been eased, so have some of the POST rules.

Why should police departments be involved in this kind of work? Wouldn’t it be better left to social service agencies?

Officers are often the first ones to interact with people who are experiencing challenges, whether it’s homelessness or drugs or mental illness, so it makes sense that the HPD would be involved. Homeless-related violations are one of the most frequent complaints received by officers, and having a way to help an individual get shelter and support services is crucial. In the future, we hope that social service agencies can take over more of the functions that HONU and POST provide. Along the same line, Chief (Susan) Ballard has suggested that more funding be allocated for social workers to co-respond with officers to certain types of cases.

What have you learned about Honolulu’s homeless that could help guide policy decisions about providing homeless assistance during this pandemic?

I think that most of us will agree that coordinating with other city and state agencies was challenging at first. It took a little while, but we learned that we had to work together to harness and share resources and expertise. The biggest takeaway is that the government cannot do it on its own, and the success of programs is dependent on working with our community partners.

Are you optimistic that we can significantly reduce the number of unsheltered people on our streets? Why or why not?

Personally, I am hopeful. We’ve been working really hard to build connections with community, state and city agencies, and these partnerships have helped to create opportunities, identify gaps in service and address more needs. I’d like to think that HONU and POST are making a difference during the pandemic.

THE BIO FILE

>> Personal history: Born and raised in Kaneohe. Father of two sons, ages 14 and 11.

>> Education: Graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapalama. Bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Hawaii- West Oahu.

>> Professional history: Joined the Honolulu Police Department in 2002. Previously worked in restaurant, sales and warehousing.

>> Career ambition: I aspire to be a progressive advocate for police modernization. My vision is to incorporate technology, social services, and legislation to improve community safety.

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