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IMPD officers reach out to help homeless as snowstorm blows through Indianapolis

Officers on IMPD's Homeless Unit have built relationships with the city's homeless to help out in times of need.

INDIANAPOLIS — The homeless population is not being forgotten during the biggest snowstorm to hit Indianapolis in several years. 

IMPD Ofc. Philip Smiley is part of the department's homeless unit, also known as the "Flex Team." Smiley has worked on the Flex Team for about 10 years.

Despite all of the city's shelters reaching capacity, there are still some homeless people on the street. 

"We have really worked hard to establish a rapport with the homeless," Smiley said.

Smiley and Ofc. Shawn Holmes went on a mission of mercy Monday morning and hit the streets. They checked to see if people in Indy's homeless community are surviving the snow. A stop by a homeless camp near downtown revealed not everyone headed to a shelter to keep warm. 

Smiley uses compassion to develop a relationship with people who are homeless so that they don't fear or dislike the police. It has made a huge difference in their relationship with people who they recognize by face and, in many cases, have come to know by name. 

"I think all of us try to treat it...this could be a family member out here. How would I want them treated?" Smiley said.

The officers also check other known spots where the homeless set up makeshift beds, despite the continuous snowfall. The man they found under a pile of blankets at a construction site near downtown declined shelter and it's not a surprise. 

In some cases, they interact with people who have mental health challenges. In other cases, it may be a homeless person who is self-medicating using illegal drugs or alcohol to deal with their physical or mental health. 

"They are just hardcore about staying out of the shelters and we know where to go and find those guys just to ensure they are being safe," Smiley said.

That means not only offering blankets and clothing kits to keep them warm, but also ready-to-eat meal boxes and even snacks. 

Smiley told 13News that people wanting to donate to campaigns for the homeless should do so with organizations, as opposed to visiting a homeless camp on their own. The more organized the help is, the less waste they see. 

Far too often the Flex Team has to request help from the Department of Public Works to remove clothing and other items left by the public.

"We have been doing it a while now that most of them know who we are. When we pull up, we are pretty well received by them," Smiley said.

The Flex Team is set up to where officers can flex their work schedules to do check-ins on weekends and other times outside regular business hours.