PHOENIX (September 13, 2023) – For over a decade, the Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court, part of the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County, has helped change the lives of many individuals experiencing homelessness by assisting them gain self-sufficiency, obtain and keep a job, and find stable housing.
“Participants come in to take care of many types of cases including traffic, shoplifting, and what we often refer to as ‘quality of life’ offenses like loitering and trespassing,” said Regional Homeless Court Program Manager Karen Sadler. “With the help of a case manager, they demonstrate their ability to recover from unstable cycles. We view that work as improving our community as a whole and give them credit for it in the form of mitigation of fines and fees.”
In 2012, the Homeless Court partnered with the Limited Jurisdiction Courts allowing for cases to be combined and heard at the same time. Homeless Court participants receive help to resolve outstanding minor misdemeanor victimless offenses and quash warrants.
“Unsheltered individuals tend to be very transient, moving through different court jurisdictions throughout our county. Dealing with cases in multiple jurisdictions means dealing with multiple courthouses, multiple court dates, and multiple ‘systems’,” said Sadler. “The Limited Jurisdiction Courts in Maricopa County have recognized how this can make resolving legal issues difficult for this population, so they designed the Regional Homeless Court to remove this barrier by giving it the ability to combine cases into one court date, in one courtroom, with one judge. Because of this, after completing program requirements and graduating from the program, participants get a fresh start and are more equipped for a stable life.”
From November 2022 to May 2023, 84 individuals participated in the Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court. In an exit survey recently conducted, 62% of the participants say they received help to get a driver’s license, 32% resolved a warrant and 24% indicated they were able to improve their ability to pass a background check.
The Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court is held in a less formal court setting to create a level of trust with participants and make it more convenient for individuals accessing services at the Lodestar Day Resource Center at the Human Services Campus. Homeless Court is held every third Tuesday of the month. The next session is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 19.
“I feel very uplifted by how I was treated here. It’s very empowering and I feel proud of myself and appreciate what has transpired. It is very encouraging, especially after all the negative run-ins I’ve had in the past with legal troubles," said a Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court participant.
In Maricopa County, more than 9,000 people are currently homeless. From 2019 to 2023, homelessness in Maricopa County increased by 54%, according to the 2023 Maricopa Association of Government’s Point-in-Time Count Report.
To participate in Homeless Court individuals must be able to take steps to become sheltered, demonstrating a commitment to end their homelessness and seek a referral from a participating community service provider. Participants then work with their case manager to complete community restitution hours including self-improvement, education and job training.
“For many Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court participants, the road to self-sufficiency contains many obstacles which are very formidable and daunting. However, participating in the court's program lends a ‘hand-up’ not a ‘hand-out’ to the participant,” said the Hon. James Hernandez, a Phoenix Municipal Court judge and Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court chair. “The court's program is very rigorous but upon completion will enable a participant to overcome obstacles that prevented them from obtaining driver's licenses, employment and housing."
Please R.S.V.P to attend the September 19 hearing by contacting: C.Colmenero@jbazmc.maricopa.gov.