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City Establishes Separate Courts for Die-hard Homeless

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 4 -- Starting in late September, some of Santa Monica’s hardcore homeless who run afoul of the law may end up in a special court designed to dole out not just punishment, but rehabilitation.

On the steps of City Hall Monday, County and City officials pledged to work together to craft a $1.7 million pilot program – known as a community court – that will offer drug and psychiatric assistance, rather than jail time, to those arrested for petty offenses

“Instead of going to jail and becoming part of the revolving door we will take them… and get them work, get them housing and get them training,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The court – which will initially operate only a half-day a month and serve fewer than two dozen individuals – will be bankrolled with $1.2 million from the City and $500,000 from the County.

“We hope that if this works…we will take the pilot program and expand it to the rest of the county,” said Yaroslavsky, who represents much of the Westside of Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Santa Monica, he said, has been “willing to push the envelope” in its homeless policies.

“No other City has stepped up the way Santa Monica has,” Yaroslavsky said.

Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook – flanked by council members Bobby Shriver, Pam O’Connor, Herb Katz and Richard Bloom and the City’s homeless czar, Ed Edelmen – echoed Yaroslavsky’s vision for the program, which is based largely on similar courts operating in New York City.

“I share the supervisor Yaroslavsky’s dream,” Holbrook said.

Yaroslavsky hailed the program as a step forward for Ed Edelmen, the former county supervisor who was approved this year for his second term as Santa Monica’s $200,000 per year homeless czar.

Community Courts were the most talked about initiative in Edelmen’s first six months in the post -- which was created to seek a more regional approach to homelessness -- after he and other officials returned from New York, where they were on a fact finding mission on homelessness. (see story)

Though few details were given on how the community court would function, it is expected to be presided over by Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins, said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.

Kamins already oversees many quality of life offenses -- such as public intoxication and illegal camping -- at the nearby Los Angeles Airport Court, Moutrie said.

It remains unclear where the court will reside, but City officials said it would only serve Santa Monica’s homeless.

While an important first step, the program will start small, said Yaroslavsky, serving 15 to 20 individuals every month who are classified as “chronically homeless,” or those who lived on the street the longest and battle addiction, mental illness or both.

“There will be additional resources” from the county, Yaroslavsky pledged.

As it stands now, the total estimated costs for a one-year, half-day pilot program would be $476, 237 -- $42,000 in court costs and $434, 237 for stabilization services to support the goals of the court, according to a report by City officials.

Approximately 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, the report said.

Of the nearly 2,000 homeless that a County tally revealed may congregate in Santa Monica each night, 20 to 40 percent are believed to be chronically homeless, costing the City and area hospitals nearly $8,000 a year per person. (see story)

In one instance, City officials noted one chronically homeless person logged 88 police contacts, 62 jail visits and 48 paramedic calls in one year.

How many homeless the program will serve would be dictated by the number of beds local service agencies, such as OPCC or St. Joseph’s Center, can provide. These agencies estimate the program could benefit between 35 and 50 of the homeless individuals they serve each month.

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