The calendar of cases handled by the Santa Monica Homeless Community Court has been growing steadily since its first monthly session February 2 of this year, and the 35 cases handled by Superior Court Judge Bobbi Tillmon on Friday, July 20, was its largest calendar yet.
It had been a couple of months since the Mirror sat in on the court’s afternoon proceedings in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, and it appeared that the project was gaining steam and operating smoothly – looking much more like a successful invention than an “Edelman’s Folly.”
The new court had been heavily lobbied for by Ed Edelman, the City’s Special Representative for Homeless Initiatives, and its growth from seven cases in February to this month’s 35 is evidence of its success. The concept of the court was to get non-violent perpetrators of what Edelman called “quality of life crimes” – sleeping in doorways, public urination, and such – hooked up with service providers, off the streets and out of the parks.
Although many of the defendants in the Homeless Community Court come through the urgings of service providers they are already working with, in an effort to clear their past records, the real success of the project will be measured by the number of persons who come to the homeless court directly from the conventional court system and are introduced to service providers because of their contact with the court.
During the time the Mirror sat in last Friday 15 cases were called, and there appeared to be at least four cases in which the defendant first contacted service providers through the offices of the court. One of those defendants chose to opt out of the homeless court system and have his case sent back to the traditional criminal calendar in superior court – he did not want to continue working with the service provider (participation in homeless court is voluntary to the defendant) – but the other three seemed to be making progress toward rehabilitation and permanent housing.
And the remaining defendants who had been referred to homeless court by service providers they were already connected with may well be more motivated to continue in their programs by the promise of having their pending cases dismissed upon completion of their programs with those service providers.
Most of the cases on July 20 were continued for one or two months to evaluate the defendants’ progress with the particular service providers with which they are working, but that is exactly the business of what the homeless court was designed to do – upon successful completion of that progress under court guidance, the homeless person will have a home, the case will be dismissed and the defendant will have a clean record and be more employable.
An argument could be made – either way – as to whether the program is cost effective. But it does appear that the Santa Monica Homeless Community Court is certainly achieving positive benefits at an increasing volume as it is now six months old.