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City of Columbia Homeless Court

 

The homeless population is more likely to come into contact with police, which can lead to citations that they are unable to pay and can quickly escalate to bench warrants and arrests. The Columbia Homeless Court provides a creative solution to the cycle of repeat offenses. Through this program, participants who voluntarily receive treatment and access to rehabilitation programs can have their fines dismissed. In some cases, they can have charges dismissed.

The services provided to participants are based on their particular needs and can help remove the barriers to employment and housing opportunities. Partnerships between service providers and the legal system help to bridge gaps, allowing for a more holistic approach to helping people.

Columbia's Homeless Court partners include the Columbia Police Department, Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office, Richland County Public Defender's Office, nonprofit service providers, a local law firm as well as the SC Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. The program's planning committee modeled Columbia's Homeless Court after similar programs offered in California and Alabama, as well as from the American Bar Association. Service providers include United Way members as well as local homeless support centers and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, among others.

From 2015 to 2019, only two participants were rearrested. Of the 44 applicants to the program in 2019, 15 graduated and are now in a more stable living situation. Other communities around South Carolina have used the model for Columbia's Homeless Court, and observers have come from other states to learn about the court's proceedings.

Contact Pamela Benjamin at pamela.benjamin@columbiasc.gov or 803.545.3095.