One day a few weeks ago, volunteer homeless worker Jeri Lynn Matoza was watching Modesto Police Sergeant Mike Hammond cruise slowly through Beard Brook Village, Modesto’ s permitted homeless encampment. Every few yards, Hammond had to stop because someone wanted to talk.
“Look at that,” said Matoza, “How often do you see homeless people voluntarily approach a cop? That’s the sign of a good cop.”
Hammond says he wanted to be a cop since he was in high school and as soon as he qualified he became a community service officer in the Bay Area. Counting that service, he’s been maintaining law and order for twenty years.
Hammond won’t go so far as to say he makes friends with homeless people, but he does say, “It helps to make a connection. My goal is to be firm but fair. And if I have to arrest a homeless person, I let them know it’s not personal, it’s business. I enforce the law.”
Oftentimes the first connection he makes is by learning a person’s name. Despite the presence of over four-hundred people in Beard Brook Village, Hammond seems able to greet most of them by name. Many approach him asking for advice about legal or family matters.
“Hey, Tonya, how you doing,” he will say to a woman who wants to talk. “Hi Chris, what’s up,” he says to a passerby.
Hammond says there are some common misconceptions about homelessness, beginning with the view that it begins with drug use.
“It’s a mistake to assume homelessness is all about drugs,” he says. “Drugs are a piece of the puzzle, but they’re not the only piece. There’s no really typical homeless person; everyone out here has a different story.”
Advocates for the homeless argue that a significant percentage of homeless people are mentally ill; some say the number is as high as forty percent. Another segment of people receive disability payments but not enough to afford housing.
“Gee, that’s a tough question,” says Hammond when asked how many homeless people he thinks are mentally ill or disabled. “There are a lot of them. It’s hard to tell sometimes because we don’t see all of them. One thing I do know, if people need help it’s hard to navigate the system. It’s even hard for me to navigate the system. For people without transportation or resources, it’s almost impossible.”
Those who advocate homeless encampments argue that it’s much easier to connect services to homeless people than it is to connect homeless people to services. That’s especially so if someone has a tent they use daily, rather than a hiding place.County outreach workers visit Beard Brook Village on a regular basis. As a result, they’ve been able to develop more effective relationships and help more people.
When asked how he learned to deal with homeless people, Hammond says,
“Homelessness is our number one issue as police officers. We deal with it all the time; most of the calls are service calls instead of actual crimes, but we still have to respond in an appropriate way. This badge and uniform represent different things to different people. We always have to keep that in mind.”
Hammond says one of the problems for police officers when on a homeless service call is they never know when someone is high on drugs or mentally ill. Most homeless people aren’t dangerous, but police officers are always extra attentive when on a call.
“You can go in on high alert and then dial it down,” he says about responding to a call for service. “But you learn you can’t reason with irrational people; then it depends on whether you’re dealing with mental health, or withdrawal, or something else.”
Hammond thinks the encampment at Beard Brook Village has been a success, “from a legal standpoint.”
“We drew lines and asked a difficult population of people to stay within those boundaries and they’ve done that, for the most part. And when people go outside those boundaries and we tell them to get back in, most of them obey us.”
Hammond says that the crime rate is no higher at Beard Brook Village than most other places in Modesto, but there are obviously things that go unreported.
“There aren’t any needles or pipes lying around, but I’m not naïve enough to think there’s no drug use. But for the most part, people have been obedient like in any neighborhood. We have to remember, though, that homeless people are less likely to call us out. When they do call, it’s serious. It’s a real emergency.”
Some residents at Beard Brook get special treatment and are asked to set up tents outside the boundaries of the village.
“We have a few people who shout and scream at people who aren’t there, any hour of the day or night. They cause so many disturbances that they are in danger of getting beaten up, so we put them outside the boundaries for their safety. When I explain it to people, they understand why we make exceptions. Some people just can’t be around others.”
Service calls about problems with homeless people have diminished along Modesto’s McHenry Avenue, in city parks, and downtown. Those numbers support Hammond’s claim that Beard Brook Village has worked from a legal standpoint.
When he’s asked whether there’s a way of looking at the encampment other than from a legal standpoint, Hammond says, “You can look at it as a brother, or a father, or a husband. There’s a humanitarian standpoint. You can look at it that way.”
From all appearances, sometimes Mike Hammond does look at it that way—at least whenever he can.
Bruce Frohman says
Officer Hammond is a credit to the Modesto Police Department. Modesto has many fine officers.
One hopes that Beardbrook Village is not a permanent encampment and that a coordinated effort is being made to find permanent housing for everyone. If those in the religious community partner with local government and other concerned citizens, Officer Hammond will have fewer homeless citizens to protect and the entire community will be better off.
Richard Anderson says
Mike Hammond and Frank Ploof (also in the photo) are so important as ombudsmen for our homeless in BBP- great story. But you, too, are exceptional in your lavish allocation of time with our homeless. And it’s just one issueas well as so many other important issues you cover that affect our lives. Thanks! – Richard Anderson
Terianne gray says
I m worrying my daughter Charmaine ford homeless somewhere place Modesto cac as please you find her then please email me
Hammond is the man.. He has natural way of talking to people.. good or bad …and we were in the trenches together ….
Kathy Munoz says
I just feel so sad when it’s raining and the wind is blowing so hard, that there is not a place for people to be dry and warm. I know their tents are not adequate. They have been there all winter. What are we doing with the grants to fix this
Karen hortonv says
Officer Hammond is a great cop he understanding n kind n doesn’t judge homeless people as a hole some of us aren’t on drugs just mentally 8ll or for other reasons beyond our control we’ve ended up homeless n it’s no crime to not have a home besides were not homeless were houseless Modesto is our home Hammond has talked me into coming to tent city when my anxiety wasn’t letting me go there due to being rapped there’s yrs back I didn’t want to have to relive it every time I seen the same spot I was rapped at every day. N nite but I’ve still not got a tent they were out of them. N I’ve not bothers Hammond for bout week now because I’m fortunate enough to have a mini van I’m really comfortable to sleep in I can lock my doors n feel safe unfornutatly that not leagal in Modesto Hammond has told me to sleep in ur car is iileagal crazy but law but I’ve been ordered by Hammond n another officer to be down there so I ve been sleeping in my van since beatdbrook n rt outside of the new Moe’s since the day they opened it until too many people were moving motor homes with debris all around making a isor of the Rd we all hafmd to move nolonger park there since then I’ve been sleeping in my van under the bridge out of the way n stay pretty much to my self due to PTSD n anicmxety n boarder line mood disorder n I hear voices but I’ve been doing like 8 was told n sleeping under bridge inside if Moe’s since it was no longer allowed to park along the street n tonight I left to go to store n came back n the jerk security guards wouldn’t let me back inside I told them that this is where Hammond told me to be n another officer told me to be n that there wasn’t no tents available so I. Don’t bother noone n stay to myself while there n they refused to let me back inside there very familer with me I’m very polite to all the security guards always but tonight me n my dogs are on the streets sleeping in my van totally illeagal as it is also atmoes but I’m where they asked me to be at Moe’s so I’m trying to state a fact if they don’t want me sleeylping on the streets in my car why did they throw me out when I just went to the store for some food n rt back the security guards were completely rude to me tonight for no reason they wouldn’t let me back inside n that’s where the homeless are suppose to be so I have to ask why they are being such jerks to me 8ve never caused a problem at Moe’s or tent City I stay to myself n have helpef Hammond out as much as possible stayed out of the way during cleaning ECT but now the security forgets that they work for us I hope Hammond fires them both the nite blk. Security guard n the skinny one with glasses n dark hair they were completely rude to me tonight had me in years started up my anxiety n PTSD again really bad I almost felt at home for first time at Moe’s until they so rudely three me out or wouldn’t let me come back in. I was mad n called them assholes. N that Hammond was going to fire them watch over this I was doing what he wanted n they stopped me from obeying his demands to be at Moe’s all homeless people even ones who’s not got a tent some sleep under the bridge 9n pallets of blanket. But because I have a van I can’t do what I’m told n sleep at Moe’s it decrimmination ilon the partof security guards n I’m seriously thinking bout during the guard that kicked me out for nothing tonight I sleep outside of Moe’s because I don’t have a tent but there’s plenty of people the sleep there nvdomt have a tent but me I have been blessed with n mini van from good friend I do feel secure sleeping where I can lock my doors sac county is getting a tent City too n they allow people to sleep in there cars til houseing can be ok for them why doesn’t Modesto allow it too it’s better then at tent more secure more cozyier warmer in winter n cooler in heat to be inside my van so I hope that Hammond will get this reply I’m making he’s a great cop n I hope that he tells them security guards there way outa line for throwing me out when 8ve been here before thermy were I m asking for Hammond to have my back I’ve had his before n still do but the security guards forget they work for us nvget these atdditudes dmagsinst the homeless the ones at nite with glasses n blk guard are completely rude to us n need to loose there jobs for obstructing justice or something going against what I was told to do by two dif officer of Modesto of I’m trying to be compliant n there not letting me I feel like I’ll never even go back there now cuz if the embarrassment they caused me tonight not letting me back in as I left to go to check to see 8f my food stamps weree on to get me something to eat nothing against Moe’s it’s been a great feeling until tonight to call someplace home for lil while but I feel like I’m not going to be able to be let into sleep in my van buly them now n the pass I had to stay in day n nite the damned guard took from me rudely n kept it I’m going to file a lawsuit against them Monday for dicrimanation those two guards I’ve watched bully mentally ill people around n even sexually came on to me the one with glasses that never got him no where so I believe I m not being treated as a homeless person obeying the shts orders to be down at Moe’s n I’m filing a lawsuit against that security officer that kicked me out cuz he’s the one that came on to me bout 4 weeks ago without a doubt was trying to come on to me sexually n cuz I didn’t go for it now he’s got a bone to pick with me I guess but I’m homeless to n I’ve been blessed with mini van that I’m very comfortable in me n my two dogs I pick up there poo n I clean up after myself n cause no problems at all so that’s the only reason I can think that all 9f a sudden they want to lick me out after I just left to go to store n I wish they’d hire security officers that are trying to be cops or perverts out there the place would run slot smoother if the security guards didn’t take thing s personal n judge us for being homeless Hammond has done a great job atoes n is liked by most of the homeless population because he genuily cares about out come of us all is trying to do the best he can do I’m asking Hammond to make them security guards leave me be n allow me to continue to do what I’ve done since it opens stay in the area n I’ve done the best I can to obey now I’m not allowed to obey sgt orders to be at tent City so I’ll sleep else where n that’s against Hammond’s orders I’m not trying to be against him just have no other place I can park Hammond please set those jerks strait n help me get a tent but even then if I had aren’t I’m more comfortable with severe anxiety disorders n seversptsd to still be comfortable in my van n that’s were I’ll sleep were I can lick my door to feel safe being gang raped nrapoed two time since it’s the only way I can sleep with out nitemares n waking up freaking out so I’m asking Hammond to set those Renta cops strait n make them leave me alone I don’t bother noone please sgt thank u for ur hard work we need more cops like Hammond sensirly Karen Horton Moe’s homeless woman whos comfortable in my mini van n don’t bother no one sleeps every nite trys to stay away during the day n I return at nite to sleep now I’ve got no where to sleep Hammond help me make those guys let me back in to sleep at nite I was just feeling comfortable being there nbthose security guards ruined that for me tonight thank u for ur time n help Hammond ur great Karen Renae Horton mentally ill but not a criminal or on drugs n kicked out for no reason