Wayne County Commissioners took steps July 19 to strengthen Street Outreach Court Detroit, a partnership between government and nonprofit agencies designed to help homeless individuals resolve minor court cases and help them find jobs and housing.
A memorandum of understanding that authorizes reserve Wayne County Sheriff's Deputies to act as bailiffs for the program's offsite court hearings received unanimous approval from the commission's Committee on Public Safety, Judiciary and Homeland Security and will receive a final vote July 27 by the full commission.
The program's nature drew praise from commissioners.
"What is so special about this program is that it shows what community members can accomplish by working together to solve problems in their community," said committee Chair Ilona Varga (D-Lincoln Park).
Allowing reserve deputies to serve as Street Outreach Court bailiffs adds no additional costs for the county, Varga said.
Founded in 2012 by a coalition of community organizations, Street Outreach Court Detroit brings 36th District Court proceedings to facilities at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and St. Leo's Soup Kitchen, making them more accessible for homeless individuals who often lack transportation to the courthouse.
Some 243 individuals have taken part in the program to date, though organizers said lack of a memorandum of understanding authorizing the reserve deputies' participation has slowed its progress.
Attending the offsite hearings allows those individuals to resolve low level misdemeanors and outstanding civil infractions, such as parking tickets, which hamper their ability to seek employment.
Program participants must first meet with a social service worker to create an action plan aimed at finding a home. They can apply for a Street Outreach Court hearing after a minimum of 30 days of demonstrated progress toward reaching that goal.
Through the hearing, individuals can have outstanding fines suspended while they complete their action plan. Social service providers update court officials on the each individual's progress.
Those participating in the program can also receive free legal counseling to permanently resolve their court issues.
Organizers said the program has saved society more than $420,000 to date, through a combination of factors, including reduced medical costs to providers serving homeless individuals, court case consolidation, reduced recidivism rates and payment of parking fees.
The Street Outreach Court Detroit coalition involves the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, Wayne County Sheriff's Office, 36th District Court, the Detroit Law Department and the Detroit Municipal Parking Department.
The coalition also involves non-governmental organizations, including the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit Action Commonwealth, Neighborhood Legal Services of Michigan, St. Leo's Soup Kitchen, Southwest Economic Solutions, Volunteers of America of Michigan and Street Democracy, a legal organization providing assistance to the poor and to ending poverty.