Deputies work directly with community partners while on patrol and through the County's Encampment Management Program (EMP) to connect the unhoused community with available resources, conduct risk assessments, and engage with all community members to improve the livability of Washington County.
What role does the Sheriff's Office play in response to houselessness?
The Sheriff's Office's response can vary based on individual situations; however, our goal is to promote public safety, support our community, and enforce the laws that govern our state and county.
The Sheriff's Office maintains a Houseless Outreach Programs and Engagement (HOPE) Team that works closely with Washington County Health and Human Services (HHS), Washington County Housing Services, and independent outreach and shelter providers to connect the unhoused community with available resources. This team, consisting of one lieutenant, two patrol sergeants, and four deputies, is expertly equipped with specific training to respond and combat houselessness by:
- Addressing neighborhood concerns
- Assessing encampment risks
- Responding to law enforcement needs in and around encampments
- Conducting training for deputies and other county entities
- Attending county and neighborhood meetings
Safety is our goal for every encounter - safety for the individual, the community, and those responding to help, be it law enforcement, fire, medical, homeless outreach, environmental services, or a mental health provider. WCSO deputies are trained in de-escalation techniques and skilled at making the general assessments needed to gain additional support from other county groups if necessary.
HOPE Team specialized training
All members of our HOPE Team are uniquely selected on merit and supervisor recommendation. Each also undergoes specialized training in Mental Health Response, De-escalation, and Crisis-Intervention. Members also attend Homeless Training to practice human-centered approaches utilizing the four focal points detailed below:
- Homelessness –Defining a houseless person’s perception of time and rules
- Punishment –How a subsegment of the houseless population is immune to punishment
- Psychology – Naturally lower aggression by using psychological approaches
- Tools – Understanding the best ways to lower conflict, prevent problems, and even request information or action of those experiencing houselessness
Regarding houseless encampments
When should you call 9-1-1?
- Immediate threats to life and property
- Crimes occurring now
- Endangered persons
When should you call Non-Emergency Dispatch (503-629-0111)?
- Potential criminal activity
- Suspicious behaviors
- Camping on public streets, shoulders, or right-of-ways
- Camping on private property without permission (This could be considered trespassing, and the landowner should report this.)
- If you are unsure if someone living in a vehicle or a camp falls within any of the above, you may request a deputy to verify and provide alternative support services.
- If you are at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness, or to help someone in need, contact Community Connect at 503-640-3263
- Refer to Washington County Housing Services for Day Centers and other homeless resources.
- Complete the EMP's online form to report concerns related to an encampment, such as trash/garbage, fire hazards, biohazards/hygiene needs, drugs/alcohol, or crimes.
- The Sheriff's Office helps establish Neighborhood Watch programs to promote liveability and crime prevention. A primary focus of this program is to know when and how to report what sort of activity. Learn more about this program, or contact us to start a program in your neighborhood.
- Learn about Responses to Homelessness during COVID-19 here.