CORAL SPRINGS, FL – After driving around central Coral Springs, Officer Marla Ferry finally spotted the homeless man she was looking for.
Ferry walked up to Joe, as he is known on the streets, and started chatting about his life and needs.
Joe has been homeless in Coral Springs for close to 10 years, and today he needed a new government identification card.
It’s part of Ferry’s job as the police department’s homeless outreach coordinator to check in on the homeless and offer them services, such as take them to get showers, give them food, and help them sign up for government health insurance and other assistance.
She agreed to help Joe with the card, and then drove off to look for other homeless people. But she’ll be back to check on him again soon.
“I’ve been working with him for years,” Ferry said.
For the past four years, Ferry has kept an eye on the city’s roughly 20 homeless people and helped make life a little easier for them.
On any given day, she is driving and walking around the city to check on the homeless who are living behind buildings, in patches of woods, and in many other places. Or, she’s responding to calls for service regarding the homeless, as well as other calls.
“No day is ever the same,” said Ferry, who has been a police officer for 19 years in Coral Springs.
According to Deputy Police Chief Brad McKeone, the police department has six officers, including Ferry, who are homeless outreach certified, a process that requires going through a 40-hour course on resources available to the homeless. It’s hosted by the Multi-Agency Homeless Taskforce in Broward County.
In addition, the department has other officers assigned to the Crisis Intervention Team that responds to mental health incidents, Ferry said.
In Coral Springs and across the nation, homelessness is a pervasive problem with no simple solutions, Ferry said.
Many of the people Ferry stays in touch with on the streets suffer from mental health problems, and they don’t want to go to shelters or work with social workers to straighten out their lives, she said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Ferry said more homeless people have come to Coral Springs, mainly on public buses that don’t charge fares. The newcomers stay for a while but usually go elsewhere.
For the most part, the homeless aren’t a problem for the police in Coral Springs, she said. They aren’t known for lawbreaking, but occasionally they upset business owners who want them off their properties.
For people like Joe, Ferry's job is to make sure they are safe.
There have been occasional successes when Ferry was able to get people off the streets.
“The numbers aren’t high, but the ones I’ve helped, it’s all been worth it,” she said. “You have to keep trying.”
The way to help those who want a different life, she said, is to gain their trust, be willing to listen, and offer whatever help they need.
“The homeless population in our city recognizes me for my empathy,” she said. “I believe every encounter is a positive step in improving homelessness. I would not continue with my work if I felt this was a hopeless endeavor.”
Here are several ways in Broward County to help the homeless.
According to Ferry, the process for assisting someone experiencing homelessness who desires help includes:
- Families with minor children should contact 211 so that they can register for a shelter bed. Shelters are separated by sex and some have accommodations for families with minor children. There are not many family beds in Broward County shelters, so there can be a wait for availability.
- If a person is a veteran, depending on their discharge, they may be eligible for assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- All other people need to meet with the Taskforce For Ending Homelessness at one of its meeting locations to check on eligibility and availability of beds.
For other issues regarding the homeless in Coral Springs, call Coral Springs police at 954-344-1800.
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