Community Homeless Court
Homeless Court is a special Superior Court session for homeless people to resolve outstanding minor offenses and warrants that often arise out of the condition of homelessness.
Homeless Courts have been found to reduce court and jail costs, build community collaboration, improve access to court, and assist the homeless in getting needed services and jobs. Improving access to court for homeless people is accomplished by bringing the court to the community. Court sessions are held at local shelters or agencies that serve this population. Part of the cycle of homelessness is frequent contact with police. Many of the homeless have received multiple citations for minor infractions such as loitering and illegal lodging. They fear going to court because they know they are without means to resolve their cases. Unresolved citations and warrants can be significant barriers to a homeless person's efforts to obtain a job, a drivers license, housing and medical benefits.
When court is held at homeless shelters or service agencies, it helps build trust and confidence for the population being served. The homeless voluntarily sign up in the shelters asking to take responsibility for their offense(s) and make reparations in the form of community service work. In order to participate in this court program, a person must be referred by his or her caseworker after demonstrating significant progress toward self-sufficiency.
Homeless Court builds on partnerships between the court, businesses, local shelters and service agencies and law enforcement, and the Offices of the District Attorney and Public Defender. It attempts to resolve community problems created by homelessness with practical solutions.
The referring agency completes a Court Referral Form. The Court Referral Form includes information from the citation including the name and date of birth, driver's license and citation number. The form is faxed to the Court and then screened for offense eligibility, namely to make sure the offense charged is of a minor nature, does not carry any mandatory jail sentence, and that there are no other outstanding warrants for the defendant that might mandate incarceration.
All infractions can be directly referred to Homeless Court. The only misdemeanors that can be directly referred are violations of Penal Code sections 647 (f), (h) and (j). Any other misdemeanor requires the consent of the Office of the District Attorney, the Office of the Public Defender and the court. If the defendant and his or her charged offenses meet the Homeless Court criteria, the cases(s) will be calendared for a Homeless Court session. The court may reject a case for any reason.
Through Homeless Court, participants are "sentenced" to activities designed to assist with reintegration into society. Generally, the participant is given "credit for time served" as a result of a variety of shelter activities coordinated by the recommending caseworker. These include life-skills training, chemical dependency or AA/NA meetings, computer and literacy classes, training or searching for employment, medical care (physical and mental), counseling and volunteer work. Typically, the Homeless Court participant has already been in a case managed shelter program for at least 90 days before the court session. This means that in most cases the participant has already completed enough program activities to allow for a "credit for time served" disposition at the Homeless Court session. Program staff ensures the homeless participants are already successful in their efforts to leave the streets before they enter the courtroom. Unlike a traditional court setting, these individuals are on the right track before they meet the judge at the Homeless Court.
Protocol for Calendaring the Cases
Dates when Homeless Court Meets
Homeless Court will generally convene on the second Thursday of the month at 3:00 p.m. at the Concord Homeless Shelter.
All infractions and any misdemeanors listed in the Offense Eligibility section can be calendared for Homeless Court upon receipt from the referring agency. Other adjudicated misdemeanors in which the defendant has already served the time or completed the sentence but has fines or civil assessments, may be eligible, with the court's discretion.
Maximum Number of Cases per Session
Subject to court discretion, up to 30 cases may be calendared for each Homeless Court session. In months where Homeless Court is being held after having been dark the prior month, up to 30 cases may be calendared, again subject to court discretion.
Effect of Calendaring on Pending Cases or Warrants
Any outstanding warrants will not be recalled while a case is pending for the Homeless Court calendar. Those with outstanding warrants should be cautioned by the referral agencies that they could be picked up on those warrants should they come into further contact with law enforcement.
The court has the discretion to deny participation in Homeless Court. Denial shall not be arbitrary but shall be based upon a finding that the charges are either unsuitable for the alternative sentencing structure Homeless Court provides or other criteria making the case inappropriate for Homeless Court. Any such finding by a judge should be noted in the court record, and such information should be transmitted to the referral agencies and criminal/traffic unit so they know not to refer or calendar the defendant for Homeless Court.
Failure to Appear
In those cases in which the defendant failed to appear for Homeless Court, the case would revert back to the status it had prior to calendaring for Homeless Court. If a case were removed from a calendar to be scheduled on a Homeless Court calendar, the case would revert back to the regular calendar as a failure to appear.
See our Frequently Asked Questions.
Contact People for Homeless Court
Superior Court, Martinez
Honorable Steven Austin
Wakefield Taylor Courthouse
725 Court Street, Martinez
Officer of the District Attorney
Mark Peterson, Deputy District Attorney
Office of the Public Defender
Susan Hutcher, Deputy Public Defender
Contra Costa Behavioral Health Homeless Program
Felix Box, Homeless Court Coordinator
Homeless Program 925-313-7700