Across the country, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the depth and severity of the nation’s homelessness crisis. As first responders, law enforcement officers are frequently dispatched to address situations involving homelessness-related health emergencies or public safety challenges.
Lack of access to regular care for mental and physical health conditions, as well as substance use disorders among people who are homeless, can lead to frequent 911 calls and law enforcement interactions. Left with few options but to arrest, disperse, or issue a citation, many officers experience frustration at what amounts to a revolving door between homelessness and the criminal justice system—a cycle that disproportionately affects people of color.
Collaboration between law enforcement and community homelessness services is needed to better address the core issues at hand.
This panel discussion is intended to discuss these collaborative efforts and gain an understanding of unsheltered homelessness, while working to reduce related contact with the criminal justice system.
Participants who register are invited to submit questions and engage our presenters throughout the conversation.
This program was made possible by Trustar Bank.
Director of Crisis Intervention Teams
Miami-Dade County (FL) Police Department, Police Mental Health Collaboration
Habsi W. Kaba began her career in rehabilitation and recovery within the mental health field, 25 years ago. Since 2003, Habsi heads the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project’s CIT Program, in Miami-Dade County. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, her passion as an educator and public speaker, has inspired her work to create understanding, compassion and connections within the behavioral health, criminal justice and first responder community. She has trained over 15,000 first responders, 911 personnel, mental health professionals, government officials, including the private sector. Habsi has served as a consultant for government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security U.S. ICE Hostage Negotiation Team. Habsi is an internationally recognized expert in the field of crisis intervention best practices, curriculum design and development, trauma, first responder self-care, de-escalation, and police mental health collaboration. She shares her experience as a boundary spanner and resource facilitator, implementation of behavioral health criminal justice initiatives, systems transformation, and community liaison services. In 2014, Habsi was named CIT International Coordinator of the Year and in 2019, joined the CIT International Board of Directors.
Vacaville (CA) Police Department
Sergeant Aaron Dahl was born in Sacramento, California and raised in Sacramento and Vacaville, California. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from CSU-Sacramento in 1996 and began his career as a Police Officer in June 1998 with the BART Police Department in Oakland, California. In 2002, he transferred to the Vacaville Police Department in Vacaville, California and was promoted to Sergeant in 2016. In January of 2018, he was assigned to the Community Response Unit known as CRU, which deals with the homeless response.
Overcoming the Darkness, LLC
Eric Weaver is a retired sergeant with the Rochester, NY Police Dept., where he served for twenty years from 1985-2005. He was a police sergeant for the RPD for the last 13 years of his highly decorated career. Prior to his employment with the RPD, he served as a Corrections Officer from 1983-1985 with the Ontario County, NY Sheriff’s Department. While with the RPD, he served in numerous positions within the Department, including numerous patrol assignments, the Tactical Unit, the SWAT team, and Internal Affairs. Eric’s last assignment for the Rochester Police Department was as Mental Health Coordinator, and was the creator, developer, and Commanding Officer of the first Crisis Intervention Team in NYS. The CIT is a specialized unit within the RPD that responds to calls within the Rochester community for individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. He continues to serve as a consultant with numerous police departments and their respective communities in NYS in the creation, development, training, and implementation of similar Crisis Intervention Teams, and has served as a leading consultant for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and NYS Office of Mental Health in developing CIT training throughout New York State.
Eric is a consultant with the National Council for Behavioral Health and serves as a National Trainer for the internationally recognized Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid programs. He was a contributing writer of the MHFA Public Safety curriculum, specifically regarding officer wellness, Critical Incident Stress, PTSD, police suicide, etc. He is a former Consulting Trainer and Master instructor for ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), a former SafeTalk (Suicide Alertness Training) instructor, and served as both Area Director and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Western New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Eric served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer Consortium of New York, was a Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance’s (DBSA) group facilitator and a member of the DBSA National Speaker’s Bureau, and is currently a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)-NYS Consumer Affairs Committee. He also serves as a Peer Review consultant for SpecPro Management Services, LLC regarding police mental health training on a state and federal level.
Eric is also former pastor and served for several years as the Executive and Counseling Pastor of Crosswinds Wesleyan Church in Canandaigua, NY. Eric holds a certificate in Biblical Counseling from the American Association of Christian Counselors.
Diagnosed with severe mental illness and hospitalized for suicidality on numerous occasions between 1996 and 2017, while serving in roles as a police sergeant, pastor, and training consultant, Eric openly and honestly shares his story with each of his audiences. In 2002, after the suicide death of a fellow RPD officer, he wrote and developed his seminar, ‘Overcoming the Darkness; Shining Light on Mental Health, Trauma, and Suicide for Law Enforcement,’ a course on mental health, cumulative stress, stigmas, depression, PTSD, suicide prevention and awareness within law enforcement and among officers themselves. Eric has instructed this course to approximately 35,000 law enforcement officers and other emergency services personnel across the country. In 2010, Eric developed and now directs his own full-time training and consulting business, “Overcoming the Darkness”, in which he and his team provide internationally recognized certification programs, training seminars and keynote addresses on recovery, mental illness, stigmas, communication skills, and suicide awareness, prevention and intervention, for law enforcement agencies, mental health counselors and agencies, hospitals, schools, colleges, and consumer and community groups. Due to Eric’s professional and personnel experiences in his work in mental health, he has won numerous awards throughout NYS, and has been featured nationally in ‘TIME’, ‘Details’, and ‘Reader’s Digest’ magazines, WebMD, the FBI National Academy Magazine, as well as various news publications and local television programs.
In addition, Eric is publishing his book Overcoming the Darkness; Shining Light on Mental Health, Trauma, and Suicide for Law Enforcement being released in Fall 2020.
Borinquen (Bo) Hall
Homeless Liaison Specialist
Miami Beach (FL) Police Department Homeless Resource Unit
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in South Beach, Florida, Bo Hall grew up without a father. He was raised by his single mother who put him out of the family home when he was a teenager. This set the stage for much of the trauma young Bo experienced in later years. Bo’s mother, also experienced trauma throughout her life as her two older children died at an early age. Although Bo later learned of his brother and sister, he never met. Unable to properly care for himself, young Bo became homeless on Miami Beach. He slept in parks on the beaches and practically anywhere and everywhere he could. All while still going to high school. Eventually, Bo began abusing drugs and alcohol. He also started getting into frequent fights and began committing minor crimes. His behavior resulted in him spending time at the Juvenile Detention Center and The Miami-Dade County Jail.
Coincidently, and in a twist of faith, Bo is now employed by the same agency that would take him into custody – the Miami Beach Police Department. Bo became depressed. He got to the point where he didn’t care whether he lived or died and contemplated committing suicide. Eventually, Bo ended up dropping out of Miami Beach Senior High School. Bo was hopeless, helpless and didn’t care about living. Bo would go on to meet a couple at Calvary Chapel, a local church. He would often go there to eat. They embraced Bo with love, empathy and compassion, the support Bo desperately needed.
On Memorial Day of 2001, Bo entered the Miami Rescue Mission Shelter where he got the support he desperately needed. He went on to graduate the Miami Rescue Mission’s Regeneration Program and reunited with his estranged mother at the program’s graduation ceremony. Bo lived in the Miami Rescue Mission for 3 years. During that time, he pursued his education and graduated from Miami-Dade College, as an EMT-Paramedic. In 2004, while living in the Miami Rescue Mission, Bo was presented with a unique opportunity to serve as a Homeless Outreach Worker at a newly developed program with the City of Miami Beach. In this capacity, he was able to save thousands of lives of men, women and children from the very streets he was living on years before.
In 2018, Bo was asked to serve as a Homeless Liaison Specialist, for the Miami Beach Police Department’s Homeless Resource Unit. Today, Bo is helping people who are chronically homeless. Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol and some suffer from mental illness. As a formerly homeless addict in recovery and as a State of Florida Certified Recovery Peer Specialist(CRPS-Adult,) Bo fully understands and can relate to the people he has dedicated his life to serve.
Michael L. Ferrell
The Coalition for the Homeless
Michael L. Ferrell is a native Washingtonian with more than 40 years of experience in public service including with the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the former D.C. Commission on Social Services, and the Council of Churches of Greater Washington. Mr. Ferrell has been employed with the Coalition for the Homeless since 1989 and has been the Executive Director of the organization since 1996. The Coalition for the Homeless is a District of Columbia based nonprofit that has served homeless men, women and children since 1981. The Coalition provides food, transitional and permanent housing, employment and housing placement assistance and supportive social services at 9 different program sites within the District of Columbia. The Coalition provides direct services to more than 640 homeless men, women and children annually.
Mr. Ferrell is a member of Leadership Greater Washington, and has served on numerous committees and Boards including, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, Unity Health Care, the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and previously was the past Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Committee (2005-2018), which is responsible for the annual regional point-in-time count of the homeless report.
Crisis and Veteran Services Administrator
Tenasha Hildebrand is the Crisis and Veteran Services Administrator for Mercy Care, which is the Regional Behavioral Health Authority for Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County in Arizona. As administrator, Tenasha oversees a system that covers more than 4 million people and includes a central hotline; crisis mobile teams; urgent psychiatric centers; and respite, detox and transition facilities. An Army veteran, she works closely with local law enforcement, the Veterans Administration, hospitals, fire departments and community crisis providers to enhance the ongoing collaboration and explore new opportunities to improve the system and member outcomes. Tenasha has worked in behavioral health in Maricopa County for more than 16 years in a variety of roles, most recently supervising three adult outpatient clinics, and previously served as a detention officer with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. In her current role, she works closely with both child and adult populations. Tenasha received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology, with a minor in Justice Studies, from Arizona State University. Tenasha received her master’s in Public Administration from University of Phoenix in 2019.
Mary Frances Kenion, MPA
Lead Homeless Services Specialist
Mary Frances Kenion is a Lead Homeless Services Specialist at consulting firm ICF with over 13 years of experience working in the homelessness field. Her experience includes implementing performance-based management in contracting, providing strategic direction for stakeholders, program and system-related policy development, compliance, monitoring/oversight, brokering partnerships with the justice system to improve outreach and strengthening the homelessness crisis response system. Mary Frances is currently working with the City of Atlanta and helping other communities throughout the country create more equitable systems of care in response to homelessness.