OKC Officials Eye Homeless Court To Meet Crimes Of Homelessness With Compassion

Friday, October 11th 2019, 9:35 am
By: Grant Hermes

An alternative court aimed at compassionate criminal justice for the homeless is expected to debut in Oklahoma City in early 2020.

The court is modeled after courts around the country but specifically on the model used in San Diego.

It's designed to help offenders who are arrested for municipal crimes like trespassing, loitering, using the restroom in public, crimes advocates say wouldn't be crimes if someone was indoors.

It's not all that uncommon to have specific kinds of court for specific offenders. Oklahoma already has versions of drug court or veterans court aimed at addressing specific crimes and causes of those crimes. Officials are hoping a homeless court will help address the root causes of homelessness in a city where 30 percent of the population is unsheltered, according to the Homeless Alliance.

The Homeless Court Program judge will also be able to recommend drug or mental health treatment for offenders, instead of jail time or fines, because so often homeless offenders have other issues that are the cause of their homelessness. The court will also be run out of the homeless alliance downtown where advocates hope offenders will feel more comfortable and will be more likely to get help.

“Walking into a courtroom can be really intimidating,” Ward 6 Councilor JoBeth Hamon “Walking into a space that's more familiar to them and with people who are their advocates is really hopefully can help get those folks through the system that's a little more understanding and friendly.”

The court program marks a shift in the approach to homelessness by city officials. Just two years ago the city was mired in controversy over a panhandling ordinance seen by advocates as criminalizing homelessness. Once hearings begin, the court will hold session each quarter after that.