HEART 1 to Help Homeless

Kirt Ramirez
HEART 1 UNIT Firefighter-Paramedic Justin Verga checks up on a homeless man.

In an effort to help the homeless in Long Beach, a new response team has been added to the city’s fire department to solely assist the city’s down-and-out.

The Homelessness Education And Response Team known as HEART 1 is made up of two firefighter/paramedics, Joel Davis and Justin Verga. After internal employees were told that HEART 1 positions would be created and applications would be accepted, Davis and Verga were the applicants selected for the job, said Long Beach Fire Department Public Information Officer Jake Heflin.

“They’re assigned four 10-hour days and they work those four 10-hour shifts throughout the city, making contact with homeless and at-risk individuals,” Heflin said.

As an example, a homeless vet was assisted by HEART 1 and Heflin noted, “They worked to get him off the streets and into temporary housing. He is also in the process of securing permanent housing through their supportive outreach efforts.”

When the HEART 1 unit is off, the Long Beach Police Department can assist, perhaps with its Mental Evaluation Team known as the MET team, Heflin said, adding that the whole city works together.

Through email, Davis said he and Verga started Nov. 15 and were available to respond on Nov. 30. As of Jan. 11, the unit responded to more than 60 911 calls related to people being homeless with over 50 proactive outreach contacts, Davis wrote.

“The unit is a specialized unit with a primary mission of responding to calls that involve people experiencing homelessness in the City of Long Beach, making a rapid assessment of needs and connecting them with the appropriate resources,” Davis wrote.

Davis added, “The unit is part of the City of Long Beach outreach network and works closely with partners from the health department, police department, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups in order to better serve the population experiencing homelessness.

“The unit is a city-wide resource available to respond Tuesday through Friday from 0900 to 1900. Proactive outreach is conducted throughout the day building relations and trust with the population experiencing homelessness in effort to understand their individual situation and connect them with resources that can help them with their needs.”

If members of the public are concerned about a particular homeless situation, they can call fire dispatch non-emergency (562) 436-8211 or 911 (if an emergency) or email specific details to: fd-heartunit@longbeach.gov.




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