Following the first Stand Down in San Diego (1988), veterans stated their greatest need was to resolve outstanding bench warrants. Half of homeless veterans had histories of involvement with criminal justice after discharge from the military. Incarcerated homeless veterans have high levels of health, mental health, and/or substance abuse problems. In 1989, criminal agencies began informal proceedings to include court and other necessary legal services to homeless people in an effort to resolve cases and prevent further involvement in the justice system.
Homeless courts are special court sessions held in local shelters or other community sites designed for homeless citizens to resolve outstanding misdemeanor warrants. Homeless defendants sometimes fail to appear in traditional courts, not because of disregard for the court system, but due to the status of their condition. Many homeless people are reluctant to attend court given the uncertainty of court proceedings and the threat of custody. Unresolved legal issues can ultimately preclude homeless people from accessing desperately needed services such as employment, housing, public assistance and treatment programs.
The American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Homelessness and Poverty offers technical support. For information, please contact Amy Horton-Newell at the ABA Washington Office at (202) 662-1693 or via e-mail at email@example.com. The ABA has also developed approved policies related to homeless courts, including basic principles for homeless court programs, which may be found at The American Bar Association: Commission on Homeless and Poverty website.
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