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Training Teaches Police Recruits How To Support Unhoused Pittsburghers

Kimberly Paynter
Pittsburgh police recruits are now being trained on how to interact with unhoused people. The training was first adopted in late 2019, but was removed, the added back to the curriculum due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

On today's program: New Pittsburgh police recruits receive training to address the needs of unhoused residents; and author Pam Muñoz Ryan discusses themes in her latest book ahead of her talk this Sunday with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. 

Police training now includes conversations with social services and unhoused people

(0:00 —  7:32) 

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police resumed training police recruits to address interactions with unhoused residents, and the impact law enforcement has on folks who are housing insecure. The program began in November 2019, but the pandemic interrupted it.

“This year we had 32 recruits run through it, virtually,” says Sgt. Colleen Bristow, who oversees this “Homeless Academy” program. 

The program explains how to talk to someone who is experiencing homelessness, what it’s like to walk through a homeless encampment, why someone might have weapons on them, and what other issues they may be experiencing. 

“We talk about harm reduction, how our encounters can remove them from housing lists,” says Bristow. “What are the effects of what we create as law enforcement?”

Bristow says recruits hear from Dan Palka with Allegheny Health Network’s Center for Inclusion Health, as well as a formerly homeless person who talks about their experience. 

“The training was actually suggested to us from the Office of Community Health and Safety manager, Laura Drogowski,” says Bristow. “She had attended a substance use disorder training that I had hosted here and we kind of realized this was a natural fit with almost the two things together.”

Bristow says while this program is specifically for new recruits, veteran officers would benefit from a version of this training.

“The humanizing, the improved interactions, the meaningful connections, the discretion: That part could all stay in it, but the procedural part would be gone.” 

Author Pam Muñoz Ryan reflects on “belonging” in her books
(7:45 — 18:00)

The books we read as children hold a special place in our hearts, transporting us to distant lands, and helping readers sort through the complexities of growing up. 

This Sunday, Pittsburgh Arts and Lecture will host a conversation with an author who crafts these journeys for young readers. 

Pam Muñoz Ryan has written more than 40 books, including “Echo,” which garnered critical acclaim. 

Her most recent novel, “Mañanaland,” takes readers on a journey with a young boy named Max.

Max’s family holds many secrets about his mother’s disappearance and their history as guardians. 

“As a writer, I’m often putting my characters in situations where they go from one situation of maybe feeling very secure to the opposite situation of having their life unravel, and then having to deal with that,” explains Muñoz Ryan. She says writing about belonging is one way of demonstrating security and safety to her adolescent readers. 

“The not belonging becomes an obstacle, but it also becomes a challenge, and I guess as the writer that’s what I want to portray for my characters, is that feeling of not fitting in becomes a challenge instead of something that cannot be overcome.”

Pam Muñoz Ryan will be speaking this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures’ Words and Pictures series.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


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