Police take woman to mental health awareness facility

Story and photo by Steven Matthews

Long Beach police and campus speaks to the homeless woman that was caught stealing inside the cafertia in the E building at the LAC Campus at LBCC.

Campus police responded to a call on Nov. 29 regarding a homeless woman who entered the cafeteria, grabbed some food items, was unable to pay for them, and then sat down to eat.

The woman initially attempted to pay for the food with some sort of payment card, but she refused to let anyone else touch the form of payment, and when they allowed her to swipe it herself, the payment did not go through.

After the woman sat down, cafeteria manager David McDonald pulled her to the side to discuss her ability to pay for the items, but quickly discovered that there might be additional contributing factors to her situation, specifically that he believed she may be suffering from a mental illness.

“It’s a difficult situation,” said McDonald. “I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it, but once it became apparent that there were some mental health issues, I decided to place a call, not to the fire department, or 911, but to the non-emergency line of the police.”

In addition to her interaction with McDonald, the homeless woman received help from a couple of bystanders, an unnamed staff member who paid for her food, and an unnamed employee in the cafeteria who offered her addition money to help.

“I try to help out whenever I can, whether it’s a person in that situation, or a student,” said the cafeteria worker who has chosen to go by “Pete”.

Campus police responded as the person was walking out of the cafeteria, and upon speaking to her, they called what is known as MET (mental evaluation team) team.

LBPD has two MET teams which include an officer and a certified mental health worker, and one of the teams is usually dispatched in situations concerning anyone who may have mental health as being a factor in their contact with the police.

After speaking with the woman for a short period of time, the decision was made not to arrest the woman.

Instead, she was taken to a facility in downtown Long Beach known as MHA Village, or Mental Health Awareness Los Angeles.

According to the MHA Village website their mission is to serve adults who have mental health diagnosis, who may be struggling with financial sustainability.

One of the officers who responded to the call, officer Nicholas Harris, spoke to the Viking about the policy of the Long Beach Police Department when dealing with homeless people who may have mental health issues.

“Our main goal is to get them help. For a person like that, jail is just a revolving door, but we want to try to solve the problem for the long run,” said Harris.

Harris finished by pointing out that it’s not a crime to be homeless or mentally ill.