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City Launches 'Diversion Court' for Minor Offenses


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By Lookout Staff

January 11, 2024 -- Homeless individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues who commit minor crimes can now have their cases dropped if they complete a social services regimen.

Launched by the City this week, STEP Court -- which holds sessions overseen by an LA County Superior Court judge every second Wednesday of the month -- "focuses on resources rather than criminalization," City officials said.

The program aims to "streamline connection to social services, address recidivism and ultimately reduce the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica," officials said.

In its first session Wednesday, four of the five participants "accepted the program recommendations and are set to return next month with progress on the orders the judge issued," City officials said.

Under the community-based, collaborative program, "resource navigators" from Exodus Recovery, Inc. meet with participants to help them access available resources.

These can include obtaining identification and mental health and substance abuse treatment, applying for housing vouchers and traveling to regional housing authorities.

The "resource navigators" will track the participants' progress and ensure they are completing all the recommendations, which can include participating in treatment and obtaining permanent housing.

The program, said Mayor Phil Brock, "focuses on helping people off the streets and reclaim their lives through resource navigation rather than continued punitive measures."

Samantha P. Jessner, the Superior Court's presiding judge, said STEP Court "represents forward-thinking, collaborative justice, and reflects the court’s commitment to work with justice partners and elected officials to address the county’s homelessness crisis."

STEP Court is funded for the next three years primarily with grants from the Department of Justice and the State Bar of California, and funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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