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Homeless Community Court Comes to Santa Monica:

The homeless issue took center stage Monday morning when City County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky announced in front of City Hall the creation of a Santa Monica Homeless Community Court (SMHCC) that will begin operation in September.

City documents state, “The goal of the SMHCC is to use the criminal justice system as a component of the continuum of care and as a mechanism to link persons to services.”  Yaroslavsky pointed out that “in exchange for doing something, the right thing, and moving on the right path, a [homeless person] will get no jail time.  This is an intelligent way to address public dollars for this very complicated issue.”  Another goal is “lessening the impact on the courts themselves of the ‘revolving door’ of persons cited for quality of life violations [such as tickets, violations] who often have these minor complaints evolve into more serious warrants.”

Yaroslavsky’s office “estimates the annual cost of providing police, paramedic and City jail services to homeless individuals can run as much as $8,000 per person, along with substantially greater costs to the County in additional jail, court and hospital expenses.” 

Yaroslavsky is hopeful SMHCC can be expanded “to other parts of Los Angeles County.”  He added, “The rest of the County will be watching Santa Monica.”

Mayor Robert Holbrook stressed this “court is the first ever in Los Angeles County and this program is earmarked to help the chronically homeless in Santa Monica.”  Santa Monica has one of the largest homeless populations in the country.

Superior Court Judge Linda K. Lefkowitz noted the cities of New York, Seattle and San Diego have similar programs, however, this program doesn’t have explicit guidelines, which was done “purposefully so we don’t feel we are tied to the past.”  Lefkowitz would like the new program to keep the good features of the other cities’ programs while incorporating other aspects tailored to Santa Monica’s specific needs.

The one-year, half-day pilot court operation will be paid for by a $500,000 grant from the County. $42,000 will be for the court costs and $434,237 for stabilization services to support the court goals. About one-third of the funding for stabilization services would be for psychiatric and mental health services and two-thirds would be for substance abuse treatment and therapeutic emergency shelter beds.  Kate Vernez from the City Manager’s office stressed that “a mental health navigator will be centerpiece for the program.”  The City estimates 200 Santa Monica homeless people will be served in the first year.   

Yaroslavsky also mentioned that, “Most of the homeless that come here are not criminals.  Society in general has turned its back on the homeless population and does not recognize the problems and illnesses and challenges they have.  They are treated like vagrants and criminals, which doesn’t do the trick…and doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all society.  Once it [the program] succeeds there will be more resources.”

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