Sharing respect

    Both transients and police seem to agree: Respect is a key element for good relations
  • Ashland police Officer Mike Vanderlip stands in the Plaza on a sunny Labor Day afternoon, explaining the town's rules to half a dozen transients.
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  • Ashland police Officer Mike Vanderlip stands in the Plaza on a sunny Labor Day afternoon, explaining the town's rules to half a dozen transients.
    No camping in town, no alcohol, no dogs on the Plaza, no public urination, no trespassing into stores if they told you to stay out. Yes, it's legal to be homeless and say what you want, but if you get in someone's face and start saying things that incite a reaction, you could be cited for disorderly conduct.
    Everyone is pleasant and there are lots of jokes and smiles.
    Observing the interaction, city Councilwoman Carol Voisin says the relationship between the homeless and police largely is amicable in Ashland. Police, who have a small post facing the Plaza, are quick to connect with newly arrived transients and will stand close by observing them if they loiter too long or are too loud.
    "That makes them move along," says Voisin.
    Voisin is in a group of "Plaza watch" volunteers, each of whom works one day a week in the summer telling the homeless where food, shelter and other services can be found and keeping a record of what happens with them.
    Sometimes, Voisin says, she helps keep order.
    "If they're being obnoxious, sometimes I'll sit with them and tell them not to do what they just did to me," she says. "It hurts Ashland, I say. They stop being aggressive, almost always."
    Voisin, a member of the Homelessness Steering Committee, says the committee plans a public meeting on how Ashland police interact with the homeless at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at the First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.
    The gathering will feature Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness, who says he often gets asked why police are so mean to the homeless. He roundly refutes the notion.
    "If you asked the homeless," he says, "they'd say we do a pretty good job. We do a lot of trainings on how to deal with them, and also homeless people with mental health issues, and treat them all with respect."
    Holderness emphasizes there's no law against being homeless and says that police spend a lot more time dealing with homeless people than with the rest of the population.
    "We get a lot of calls from people upset about them, but it's a legal activity," he says. "We spend a lot of time explaining the law to the homeless and the rest of the population. Mental issues are more prevalent among the homeless. They often become homeless because of lack of treatment and can become dangerous to themselves or others. A study by the California Department of Justice shows they are 28 times more likely to be victims of crime than the rest of us."
    The homeless who live year-round in Ashland have been known to work to get money for food and will even do a little volunteering, Voisin says, such as picking up cigarette butts in front of the Chamber of Commerce and Plaza.
    One local homeless man, Casey Lloyd, 18, says he gets along with police "pretty well."
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