Help­ing home­less clear records

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES -

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.

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