Helping homeless clear records
Why won’t the chronically homeless get off the streets? There are any number of reasons — mental illness, deep poverty, plain stubbornness — but one factor could be legal problems. Being charged with a crime, however minor, makes it more difficult for someone to reintegrate into society.
Still, justice must be served. The courts face the distinct challenge in defining what justice means when applied to the very poor and disadvantaged.
Responding to the challenge, the state’s Community Outreach Court Project, aka the homeless court, completed its first year. The results are encouraging, but also illustrate the intractability of the problem. Some 57 homeless defendants charged with minor, non-violent crimes appeared before the court, and 601 cases were cleared, according to the city Prosecutor’s Office. The defendants were sentenced to serve 676-1/2 hours of community service in lieu of fines or jail. That’s a good start.
However, there’s room for improvement in the court’s broader goal of getting the defendants back on their feet.
Of the 57, only nine found housing. Nine went into homeless shelters, 11 found employment, five began substance abuse treatment and two received driver’s licenses or learner’s permits, said the Prosecutor’s Office. We’d hoped those numbers would be higher.
The Legislature should support the court’s efforts to make those number grow, including adding a mobile court to reach more of the homeless.