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MINNEAPOLIS | The Minneapolis Police Department is changing the way it interacts with people who don't have a permanent address.

The department's Homelessness and Vulnerable Populations Initiative is an effort to help ease the struggles of people living on the streets, Minnesota Public Radio reported. The initiative began more than a year ago.

"We were having some conversations about what was lacking in terms of our relationship with our citizens, some of whom are without homes on any given day," said Sgt. Grant Snyder, who heads the program. "Nobody's going to be invisible, so those convictions that we speak with our words, we really have to back up with our hands."

The program is part of a culture shift in policing, said police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

"Years ago we labeled our homeless community members as either vagrants or transients, and that was not by accident," Arradondo said. "It was a way to dehumanize them, and it was a way for them to become invisible."

As part of the initiative, officers visit homeless people to provide them with food and water, and help connect them to social service agencies.

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Finding permanent homes is the overall goal, said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

"It's easy to get caught up in big-ticket items, the budget, new developments," Frey said. "But sometimes the most impactful and significant acts of our city are in these small acts of kindness."

He acknowledged that housing the homeless is a larger task than the police department can handle on its own. But he said officers are in a good position to provide frontline support.

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