Valley Stream

City’s Homeless Court Participants Complete Program – Valley Stream, New York

Valley Stream, New York 2021-01-14 00:07:03 –

The following article was originally posted on the City of Spartanberg Citizens News Blog.

The man was not a stranger to Judge Erica McGimpsey’s court. He was usually trapped dozens of times over decades in response to allegations of trespassing and other misdemeanors.

But just as Band-Aid can’t prevent injuries, putting a poor man in jail doesn’t solve the root cause of the homeless.

So every few weeks, the man stands again in front of Judge McGimpsey, who has been a local judge in the city of Spartanberg since 2009. Occasionally, judges and their staff provide temporary housing for him through connections with local homeless shelters and other organizations and charities. From time to time, they were forced to lock him in jail for a short period of time.

“He has appeared in court more than 100 times and we have begun to notice his poor health,” McJimpsey said. “It was a more pronounced gradual decline. He returned to court in January 2019. At that time we were hit by a really terrible cold wave. Very about 3-4 weeks. In the cold weather, he was there in the cold. “

Two days later, McGimpsey received a phone call on his way to work, informing her that the man had frozen to death.

“From a judicial point of view, you need to be neutral and unbiased, but that doesn’t shut down your compassion for seeing people live a better life,” McJimpsey said. “Sometimes I may do it more than some people want, but I want to help. And sometimes that help doesn’t lock in anyone.

“At that point, we felt we had to do something. We had to do something different.”

Something became the city’s homeless court, an innovative approach to addressing the root cause of homelessness.

What is a Homeless Court?

Spartanberg is one of only five cities in South Carolina (the other four are Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Florence) and is homeless as an alternative to the disciplinary approach that the criminal justice system usually takes towards the homeless. We are creating a court.

As George Cauthen, a lawyer who helped develop the state homeless court, and Jennifer Wilson, a local judge at Myrtle Beach, wrote in the May 2019 issue of SC Lawyer, the theory behind the creation of the homeless court is: , Homeless people are coming. Get in touch with law enforcement agencies and get citations more often than others. At the same time, they often do not appear in court. Cauthen and Wilson explain:

“… The biggest single factor that prevents homeless people from attending traditional courts is fear. They are generally afraid of systems that haven’t treated them well in the past. They are them. They are afraid of not being able to pay the fines imposed on them. They are afraid of imprisonment, especially when they are working or participating in some kind of treatment program. It means starting over. Other than providing temporary housing, homeless imprisonment does not benefit the homeless or the community. Still, the only way to solve legal problems is to attend court. is.”

However, resolving these legal issues is not the only goal of the Spartan Berg Homeless Court.

“In 2018, we began to notice a significant increase in the number of homeless people appearing in the district court,” McJimpsey said. “More and more people are in difficult times, and from my point of view, there was no direction on how to help them when they came here. Those that address the underlying problem. Was nothing. “

McJimpsey and Spartanburg court administrator Alma Miller returned to Spartanburg to work after meeting with Cauthen and homeless court officials in Colombia. They met with leaders of community-wide social welfare organizations and learned the resources Spartanberg has already invested in addressing these underlying issues.

They also met with Barry Burnett, a 7th Circuit lawyer, Derrick Bursa, a deputy lawyer, and the Public Defender Office to share ideas, but soon fell behind. “We already had what we really needed: passion and goodwill,” says McGimpsey. “Everyone was like,’Yes, let’s do it.’

“We met Hannah Jarrett of the United Way of the Piedmont and Carrie Rothschild of the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. We met the SPIHN (Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network) and the Homeless Task Force of our community. I knew what the homeless would look like in court, but I didn’t know what it would look like beyond that. Spartanburg already needed how many to set up a homeless court. I was doing that. Many people were working and laying the foundation, so a lot of things were in place. “

That foundation was important for the homeless court to run at record speeds. It usually takes a year or two for a community to get approval from the State Supreme Court to establish a homeless court. However, due to the many wraparound services and resources available and the organizations that provide them already working together, Spartanberg said in 2019, just eight months after McGimpsey began investigating the concept. We were able to launch a homeless court in September.

What Happens in Homeless Courts?

Everyone who transfers their case to a homeless court is appointed as a local lawyer and a case manager who volunteers to help their time. From housing and healthcare to SNAP benefits and employment assistance, homeless litigation managers make their own plans and connect to the social services they need to get off the streets and start building a more stable life. Their family.

Andrea Moore and Suzy Cole are two of dozens of local lawyers who have listened to requests for free legal services in court. Their company, Village Legal Hub, focuses on supporting nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, and the two women have worked in the community’s social services sector for many years. Cole and Moore create a unique team because Moore can be both a lawyer and a case manager for a homeless court client.

Their first homeless court client was a young pregnant woman who lived under the bridge, but with the help of Moore and Cole, the woman now has stable employment and an apartment, where she raises her baby. I am. She was one of the first five to graduate from the city’s homeless court earlier this month. To graduate, you must have a stable home, be employed, receive an unemployment allowance, and be connected to a major service provider. Upon graduation, the fees the person was facing will be erased.

Others in the court stood and applauded when McGimpsey congratulated the young woman and announced that she had completed the requirements of the homeless court and her accusations had been extinguished. “It was the most uplifting and rewarding experience I have ever had in court,” Cole said. “You usually don’t leave the courtroom that way.”

“These are strange lives,” McJimpsey said of the first class of homeless court graduates. “It was changed by a lot of people who are willing to work, such as service providers and local lawyers, not homeless courts. We should be proud of our community. What we have to do There are many, but there are many who take care of them and work very hard. “

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