Program Offers Homeless San Diegans Opportunity to Clear Minor Crimes

Created: 24 May, 2018
Last update: 20 April, 2022

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

“Justice Day” gave 23 participants the opportunity to have minor crimes dismissed.

Trolley infractions, illegal lodging, theft of a shopping cart, or unpaid fines are some of the few minor infractions and misdemeanor charges that can become roadblocks to breaking the cycle of homelessness.

An event organized by criminal justice partners on Wednesday afternoon at the Alpha Project Shelter aimed to help a group of homeless individuals get a fresh start by clearing charges for minor crimes.

One by one, 23 participants who are currently staying at the Alpha Project’s downtown homeless shelter had minor infractions and misdemeanor charges dismissed before an on-site court as a result of the event “Justice Day.”

Participants were pre-screened and selected based off their engagement with services at Alpha Project and their individual commitment to exiting the homeless cycle.

The on-site court was held in an open space behind the Alpha Project Temporary Bridge Shelter.

According to District Attorney Summer Stephan, the program gives participants the opportunity to address outstanding citations, tickets, or warrants that prevent them from finding a job.

“We want to help them break the cycle and this is one way to do it,” Stephan said during a press conference held before the on-site court hearings.

Stephan added that the event removes barriers that homeless individuals face when it comes to the justice system like finding transportation to court, or figuring out what fines are outstanding.

“Those outstanding citations or warrants are just one more roadblock for someone who is doing their best to put their life back together, to get off the street – that’s why they are here – to find stable housing, to get a job,” Stephan said.

Public Defender Amy Hoffman watched as one of the participants of “Justice Day” shook hands with Judge Desiree Bruce-Lyle after she dismissed the charges against him.

According to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless most recent Point-In-Time-Count, two thirds of the homeless population has had some kind of interaction with the justice system.
Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy called the event an answered prayer.

McElroy said that not only are programs like “Justice Day” are win win situations for the individuals who are staying at the shelter but also for taxpayers.

“It doesn’t serve anybody, especially the taxpayers, any good by having our folks going back to jail, going to jail, doing time and costing taxpayer dime and then being dropped right back to the streets in the same environment that contributed to the delinquency to begin with,” McElroy said.

Although the concept of an on-site court is not new, Wednesday was the first time it was held at the Alpha Project, and according to Stephan, it is about breaking small barriers.

Homeless Court is held on a monthly basis at St. Vincent De Paul Village or Veterans Village of San Diego, according to the District Attorney’s Office. But “Justice Day” was intended to bring the on-site court to the individuals instead of requiring them to travel to a designated location.

“It might seem like 23 is not a large number, but for these 23 it really matters, they get this burden right off their back right here where they are without having to worry about getting to the regular session of Homeless Court,” Stephan said.

“Justice Day” was a result of a collaborative effort by the District Attorney’s Office, the San Diego Superior Court, Public Defender’s Office, the City Attorney, and local treatment providers.

According to Stephan, the event was a test pilot and they hope for it to continue in the future.