• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Santa Ana Homeless Outreach Court seeks to help disadvantaged

July 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Orange County's growing homeless population poses special problems for the Superior Courts. To deal with those problems the county has set up a Homeless Outreach Court system. It's designed to help get people off the streets and save the county money.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Wendy Lindley likes her court to feel comfortable and inviting.

"In our Homeless Outreach Court, it's just what it's called: It's an outreach court," said Lindley.

The court, designed to provide services to homeless people to try to get them off the streets, is one of several "collaborative courts" in Orange County aimed at low-level offenders.

"She found herself struggling with very little money on the streets while she's attempting to take care of her son, who has cancer," said public defender Frank Bittar in court, representing Kathryn Kelly.

Kathryn Kelly had racked up four traffic-related tickets. Through the special court, she got her license back. She worked off her tickets through community service.

"They really care about your background, they understand that you've made mistakes and they want you to just do right by yourself and by your family," said Kelly.

More than 900 people are going through Homeless Outreach Court, up by 50 percent over the past few years.

"We process cases fairly and efficiently. We're very, very, very interested in that end part, which is: How do we get positive outcomes? How do we prevent recidivism?" said Judge Lindley.

A growing number of homeless people has led to new approaches.

"You can't put everyone in jail and think somehow that's going to solve it," said Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters.

A year ago Santa Ana Police designated a team of eight to consistently patrol the Civic Center area to get to know people there. Police estimate one-third suffer some form of mental illness. They offer help and tell them about the Homeless Outreach Court.

"I've been on the street for like 25 years, off and on," said Toni Marie, formerly homeless.

Marie says she suffers from schizophrenia. Police helped her get proper medication. She's no longer homeless.

"I've been in my own place a month and a half," said Toni Marie.

But police say it's not easy if people refuse the help.

"The goal is to get them back to a stable environment, having some type of job, living on their own," said Walters.

Last year the alternative approach saved more than $9 million in Orange County just in jail and prison bed days.

Figures show that for every dollar spent on collaborative courts, seven dollars are saved across the criminal justice system.

For Kathryn Kelly, the program gave her new life. She's sober and has her own apartment.

"I'm starting back at school for a medical-assistant program," said Kelly.

She'll return to court in November for a progress check.

"Let's give her a big hand," said Judge Lindley at the end of Kelly's session

.

Load Comments