Ex-ambulance, SHPD crime unit, gets new life as homeless aid vehicle
April 29, 2020
An old ambulance that has gone through life as a police crime investigation unit and incident command vehicle is moving on to a new life: helping the homeless.
Police Chief Jeff Lynn handed the keys to the 1992 Ford E350 to Shirley Byrd and Blue Valentine of the Linn County Street Outreach Team on Thursday.
The Street Outreach Team is a collaborative group of volunteers from the community and various organizations who provide outreach services to people experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Services are provided with a goal of harm reduction and housing first.
The mobile unit will allow the team to meet a wider area of need with Linn County services, education and resources in less time. The van will help team members distribute survival essentials, healthcare access, education in harm reduction and community partner services and programs.
The Police Department purchased the vehicle after the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District took the ambulance out of service about 15 years ago, Lynn said. "We purchased it from them. During that time, it's when a lot of meth labs were going."
The van helped detectives and police officers process the scene at meth labs faster, Lynn said. It also has been used to handle evidence at crime scenes.
As the number of meth labs declined, police used it less, the chief said. During the last few years, police have used once or twice a year. They periodically start the vehicle, but it has been just sitting, sometimes requiring mechanical work.
At this point, the sergeant's year-old Chevrolet Tahoe is used as an incident command vehicle for the Police Department, and it handles what remained of the old ambulance's functions.
Lynn started getting involved with the outreach team, he said, and he learned the group needed a vehicle, he said.
"At that point, it was a match made in heaven. Donating this vehicle to an organization passionate about serving our most vulnerable is a win-win for all of us."
With the Street Outreach Team, the unit will continue to serve Sweet Home and east Linn County, Lynn said.
Valentine, a harm reduction specialist with Benton County Health Department, said the team supplies things like soap, socks, hygiene supplies and clothing, "things to meet people's immediate needs."
"We bring supplies mostly to east Linn because there's not a lot out here," she said.s
Byrd, who is founder and executive director of the Family Assistance and Resource Center, said the van will immediately "help the COVID crisis by prevention, (by serving as a) mobile unit where people can check-in and get follow up."
The unit can carry a lot more supplies, Valentine said. Right now, team members carry supplies in backpacks during their outreach.
While operations are suspended now, during the effort to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, the group intends to use the vehicle to transport clients.
In one local case, an outreach worker told The New Era, a woman requires medication bi-weekly. She must travel to Albany to get it, but she would not leave her things behind to use the bus system. Failure to get the medication led to disturbances in the community. In her case, the outreach team was eventually able to find transportation for her thanks to the Salvation Army.
The van will help the team create bridges like this to services.
The team's goal is to connect its clients to services, like food, housing, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, Valentine said; and the team advocates for them.
"They know what they want usually," he said. An example would be an ID card, which requires a birth certificate so they can seek housing or sign up for a disability program. "But they need help to get it."
The van will help, noting that the police chief has been working closely with the outreach team and referring people in need, she said. "Chief Lynn has been amazing. The whole Police Department has been really helpful and supportive of outreach out here."
To donate to or volunteer with the Street Outreach Team, visit facforthehomeless.org.