Social worker Erin Von Fempe is an employee of the Mount Vernon Police Department, but carries no gun or police department trappings aside from a radio.
MOUNT VERNON — Driving down a featureless street in Mount Vernon, Erin von Fempe spots someone she recognizes. A man in his 30s with a brown beard and red flannel shirt tied around his head is walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.
“Rats,” she says, yanking the wheel to spin her SUV. “Fortunately, I brought my Southern California driving skills to a small town.”
Von Fempe, a social worker with flax-colored hair and round, gold glasses, spent her career in Long Beach, California, before moving north seven years ago. With traffic whirring by, she pulls over long enough for the man, Gerald, to climb in. She felt lucky to have spotted him. There were several months when it was hard for von Fempe to find Gerald, who has been in and out of shelters and encampments since they met three years ago.
Von Fempe is an employee of the Mount Vernon Police Department with access to law enforcement resources, but carries no gun or Police Department trappings aside from a radio. She’s on a daily crusade to preserve the humanity of those jettisoned by society: people like Gerald who churn in and out of homelessness, mental health and substance use facilities, emergency rooms and jails.