A Fresh Start
Pine Street is working with a variety of legal agencies and services to expand an innovative program that aims to erase some of the legal barriers faced by homeless men and women.
Homeless Court is an alternative court session designed to resolve misdemeanor offenses, non-violent felonies and outstanding warrants for homeless individuals who have shown a strong commitment to recovery and stability.
“Open warrants or unresolved cases interfere with a person’s ability to get housing and employment. Many people – especially those who are homeless – are fearful of coming to court to resolve their legal problems, further compounding the problems,” says First Justice Kathleen Coffey of Boston Municipal Court–West Roxbury.
Coffey established the Homeless Court pilot project at the former hopeFound’s Shattuck Shelter in 2010, and it became part of Pine Street’s services through last year’s merger.
“Homeless Court eliminates some challenges and barriers and makes the court system more accessible,” she adds.
To be eligible for Homeless Court, individuals must be participating in a substance abuse treatment program, mental health treatment, housing search or employment program, and receive the recommendation of their case manager.
Candidates with open warrants in Boston Municipal Courts are screened by multiple agencies, including the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Committee for Public Counsel and the Probation Department.
The District Attorney’s Office ultimately decides if the dismissal of charges is appropriate and then works with the defense attorney to agree upon a recommendation for resolution.
For cases that appear before Homeless Court, the resolutions can bring finality to legal issues that have hindered the participants’ progress, allowing them to focus on what brought them to the criminal justice system in the first place, says Judge Coffey.
“Each individual who comes before the court has a unique story,” she says. “It is a strong reminder to me about how difficult life can be.”
Beginning in January 2013, monthly Court sessions will alternate between Pine Street’s South End and Jamaica Plain locations.
“Homeless Court provides help in resolving those issues for participants who also seek treatment and services from partner agencies,” says Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.
“Expanding the program shows the success it’s had so far and the promise it holds for so many here in Boston. This is a great step forward for the program and the people it can help,” he adds.