NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — The New Port Richey Police Department has created a new unit with a goal of connecting homeless individuals with the resources they need to get back on track.

What You Need To Know

  • L.I.F.T. unit focuses on helping homeless individuals get mental health, addiction resources  

  • The unit was created in June 2023 

  • Former school resource officer salaries, opioid settlement money went towards new unit 

The Life Improvement Facilitation Team (L.I.F.T.) formally launched in June. New Port Richey Police Chief Robert Kochen asked the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to take over school resource officer (SRO) duties at the city’s middle and high schools in order to free up salaries to create the new division.

The team is led by Sgt. Matt Patsch and they start each day walking the city’s downtown and nearby parks to check in with those who live in the area and see if any issues arose overnight or if anyone is in need of immediate help.

“They see the uniform and they think, ‘Oh no we’re in trouble,’” Patsch said. “So I kind of have to break that stigma, if you will.”

Patsch says over the last six months they’ve gotten to know roughly 120 homeless individuals who live in the area or the nearby camps.

Slowly, the team works to earn each person’s trust and see what resources they could benefit from. The L.I.F.T. team works closely with BayCare to get those who are seeking help into inpatient and outpatient programs, and connects others with resources like the housing coalition or Metropolitan Ministries.

“We just try to make their lives whole again and reintegrate them into society,” Patsch explained.

To date, Patsch says anywhere from 15 to 25 people have made permanent changes that his team has helped to facilitate.

Not every person the team helps is currently homeless. Some are those that have been referred to the unit by patrol officers. 

In some cases, people have found jobs or housing through the work of the team’s community partners. In other cases, Patsch has given people in need cell phones through the 911 Cell Phone Bank program or items they need to sleep comfortably at night.

In addition to reallocating the SRO salaries, the New Port Richey Police Department used $31,000 in opioid settlement funding to provide training for their officers. Additional settlement money will likely be allocated towards hiring a social worker or caseworker to assist these individuals through the process.