|The path out of homelessness is a complicated one, often met with many obstacles. A program created by Springfield Municipal Court, the Springfield Police Department, the City Prosecutor’s Office, Legal Services of Southwest Missouri and community homeless services agencies such as Burrell Behavioral Health, The Kitchen Inc., and Clarity Recovery, aim to remove one such obstacle on the path out of homelessness: unresolved legal issues.
Modeled after the first homeless court program in the nation, created in San Diego in 1989, Springfield’s Homeless Court convenes at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in a conference room at The Kitchen, 1630 N. Jefferson. The court's first success stories will "graduate" from the program on July 7, 2015.
The Kitchen is a good venue for the court, according to Springfield Municipal Court Judge Becky Borthwick, who serves as Homeless Court’s chief judge. The team involved provides transportation, hygiene supplies, bus passes and other necessities to defendants, even if they are not selected for the program. In addition to Burrell and The Kitchen, representatives from the Missouri Career Center are also on-site at each court session to assist defendants with reemployment.
“Homeless Court is a treatment court, so it resembles a counseling session more than a court session. The courthouse atmosphere can be a barrier to some defendants, so having our sessions away from the courthouse can improve participation,” Borthwick explained. “Defendants accepted into the Homeless Court program work with a treatment team comprised of the judge, city prosecutor, probation officers, Legal Services attorneys, several service agencies and community members who are volunteering their time to help. The team works together to assist the participants in securing housing, obtaining benefits and finding employment. I am amazed at the number of people who are willing to volunteer their time to make this work. We wanted to create a program where the city would not incur any additional cost."
“The defendants waive a lot of their privacy rights when they agree to be part of this program. We are checking on them to make sure they are going to their doctor’s appointments, taking their medication, going to their meetings and staying in compliance with the program,” Borthwick added. “If we can help one or two people, that is one or two we have kept out of the Greene County Jail and off the street.”
During its first two sessions in January and February, the court accepted five defendants into the program and anticipates accepting three more. As the defendants progress through the program, additional defendants will be accepted,