Tag Archive for: Homelessness

San Diego’s Homeless Court Continues to be a Model for the Nation

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said today that San Diego County’s Homeless Court Program continues to be a model for the nation as out of state officials come to observe the monthly court sessions to learn and possibly implement a similar program in their region.

During the September Homeless Court Program graduation, the District Attorney, Public Defender, and Superior Court Judges from Multnomah County in Portland, Oregon, observed the unique court hearing that took place at the Center for Employment Opportunities where more than 50 previously unhoused individuals had their non-violent misdemeanor cases and fines dismissed and cleared.

“The Homeless Court Program graduation is a time to acknowledge the hard work that individuals experiencing homelessness undertook to accept and engage in services including treatment, education and job training to become productive members of society,” said DA Stephan. “Homeless Court partners consider all the hours of treatment, community service, training, and education they have gone through to get their lives back on track. If they’re being held back by infractions, traffic tickets, and minor offenses that took place because of their homeless circumstances, the court deems those fines and fees satisfied to remove hurdles so that they can obtain a driver’s license, get a job, find housing, and continue a positive momentum through life.”

[WATCH a video of the September Homeless Court Program, HERE]

The Homeless Court Program graduation in September was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the program was near the maximum of 60 participants per month.  There were over 50 participants, more than 200 separate cases and about $140,000 in fines and fees dismissed. Individuals often have multiple cases, such as one person who had over 50 cases of mostly trolley ticket violations.

“Homeless Court is not just a court session, it is a restart, a new beginning, for graduates to move forward in their life,” said Matthew Wechter, Public Defender Homeless Court Team and Court Liaison. “Instead of fines, fees, or jail time, Homeless Court dismisses cases and satisfies fines as a recognition of the hundreds of hours that these graduates have spent to address the root issues that brought them to the justice system in the first place. Our credo is: ‘You take a step; we take a step.’ Removing legal barriers of low-level cases, warrants, and fines is key to success when a person has taken those steps. The court is merely getting out of their way. San Diego continues to be an American Bar Association model jurisdiction to the nation – exemplifying the best practices and providing technical assistance to new programs across the country.”

The first Homeless Court Program in the nation began in San Diego in 1988 and it’s a collaboration between the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender, the San Diego City Attorney, the Superior Court, and local service providers like the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), that refer individuals to the program.

“CEO is thankful to be part of this opportunity offering services to individuals across the community,” said Cambria O’Neill, Supportive Service Specialist for the Center for Employment Opportunities. “On average, 100 participants are submitted each year from CEO and Homeless Court Program continues to grow through support of CEO and other providers who are willing to be changemakers. More Homeless Court locations continue to pop up and more providers become approved to the network. We are one step closer to bringing people out of poverty and into a self-sufficient mindset.”

Angelica Sanchez was one of the participants who graduated from the Homeless Court Program in September, and she currently has a temporary job at the Center for Employment Opportunities. She is optimistic about her future now that the fines and fees she owed from trolley tickets will no longer be a barrier for her to get back on track.

“My goal is to get my driver’s license, to keep a clean driving record, to be able to travel and get a full-time job and also help provide for my mom, my siblings and my nieces and nephews,” Sanchez said.

To participate in the program, individuals need to be referred by one of the more than 100 approved Homeless Court Providers or have made progress on their own through a different program. Only misdemeanor cases that are non-violent in nature can be dismissed. For more information about the Homeless Court Program in San Diego, click here.


DA Developing New Homeless Shelter Bed App

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office is addressing the intersection of homelessness and crime by leading the effort to develop technology that can quickly locate suitable shelter beds for individuals experiencing homelessness, improving on the process that’s currently in place.

The proposed technology would mobilize a more efficient county response, providing access to comprehensive and centralized information about the capacity, quantity, and availability of shelter beds and services across the county. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted today to clear the way for the DA’s Office to work with Tech Soup and its subsidiary, Caravan Studios, to move forward with the technology development phase of the application that would implement the community design vision already developed.

“We believe this investment in technology to support communication and coordination of homeless services will be the first-of-its kind in the nation, and will be grounded in transparency, equity and data,” said DA Stephan. “Previously it could take up to 10 days to connect someone with a homeless shelter bed and by the time service providers reach back out to someone on the street, they’re often gone. With this app that connection can happen in minutes.”

The DA’s Office currently supports a similar effort to address the needs of victims of crime needing shelter through the Safe Shelter Collaborative. Sheltering agencies that provide resources to survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault can use an app to find shelter beds quickly for those attempting to escape violence.

Leveraging the positive outcomes of the Safe Shelter Collaborative and expanding this model to include all homeless populations will allow the county to maintain real time and accurate data regarding shelter use and availability and help to inform policy decisions regarding future needs and investments to better address homelessness. The app will also allow service providers, healthcare providers such as emergency room personnel, outreach teams and law enforcement to filter requests for shelter beds, allowing a better shelter match for someone who may have a pet, a child, is LGBTQ+, is elderly, or has physical disabilities, for example.

“Homelessness is a regional issue requiring innovative and collaborative solutions. Thank you to District Attorney Summer Stephan for bringing forward this proposal, which would result in another tool in our arsenal, connecting people with the resources they need and providing informative data to help us assess the root cause of housing insecurity,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “The County must continue to search for and create long-term solutions to prevent, and ultimately, help San Diegans end their homelessness.”

“Our county has taken a bold approach to address the homelessness crisis currently impacting our communities by implementing innovative and creative ways of providing shelter and support,” said Nora Vargas, Chairwoman, San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “Today, with equity and confidentiality as our top priorities, we are adding one more means of ensuring we connect residents experiencing homelessness to shelter and a bed faster than ever before.”

In November 2022, the DA brought together dozens of stakeholders from the homeless outreach and support space to solicit input on opportunities for technology to address issues and problems associated with access to shelter for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County. The resulting recommendations produced a community design that will serve as the basis for development of the shelter bed finder app.

“I appreciate the community coming together and rolling up their sleeves. Ultimately, this is being designed and informed by the people who are working on the front lines of homeless outreach and support, leveraging their experience,” DA Stephan said. “At the moment, some agencies are literally coordinating the search for a shelter bed using sticky notes. It’s our hope that participation in the app will be robust, making it a game changer in our community.”

Development of the app is anticipated to take about six months, with expanded participation among various stakeholders occurring within a year.

The DA’s Office recently released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s population of persons experiencing homelessness. Multiple sources of credible data indicate that this vulnerable population is growing faster than the availability of housing and services. Two years of District Attorney data shows individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and offenders at higher rates than the rest of the population. The overdose rate for people experiencing homelessness is 118 times higher than the general population. We also know that being a victim of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking drives homelessness especially for women and children on our streets.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian and public safety crisis that many in our community are working on at every level. Addressing this crisis clearly requires multiple solutions and we believe this new app will be a game changer and support other ongoing positive efforts,” DA Stephan added. “We appreciate the support for this initiative from the Board of Supervisors, in particular Chair Nora Vargas and Past Chair Nathan Fletcher.”

In March 2022, the DA proposed a 3-prong approach to address the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness who intersect with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This was a follow up to the DA’s 2019 Blueprint for Mental Health Reform: Addressing the Intersection of Mental Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice in San Diego County. Development of this new app is the first ‘prong’ in the DA’s proposal.

DA Proposes Plan to Address Homelessness and Crime

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today released new data about the intersection of crime and the county’s homeless population and proposes a three-point plan to address it. Two years of District Attorney data shows that individuals who are experiencing homelessness become involved with the justice system as victims and perpetrators at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population.