The City of Greenville is implementing a Homeless Court. It’s a free voluntary diversion program designed to help people experiencing homelessness exit the criminal justice system with little-to-no impact on their record.
Instead of trial being held in a typical court room, Homeless Court will be held at the Triune Mercy Center on Rutherford Street.
"This is absolutely going to be beneficial in our community,” says Triune Mercy Center Pastor and Director Jennifer Fouse Sheorn. From what I've read and researched, homeless courts are a way to reduce barriers for people experiencing homelessness.”
The court looks to serve those with nonviolent criminal records and offenses.
"We are looking to serve those who are who are charged with nonviolent offenses like shoplifting or trespassing, even some simple possession of marijuana charges that might be contributing to the homelessness," says City Attorney Leigh Paoletti.
The formal process for homeless court is still in development. Candidates would be referred by law enforcement, local service providers or court staff.
“The program is set up to try to identify and address the issues that are creating the situation where this person is unhoused and get them into stable, safe, permanent housing,” says Paoletti.
Potential program participants would be screened by the city attorney's office. The municipal court judge would assign specific requirements like vocational rehabilitation or mental health services.
"An actual person with the Phoenix Center or Greenville Mental Health — whoever the service providers are — will have a physical presence at that session," says Paoletti.
During the program, any sentencing from previous offenses is put on hold until the program is complete.
"We want it to be sustainable and successful, and the way you do that is with wraparound services, and that applies to housing as well. Some people think once a person gets housed, ‘Hey, this is it, wash your hands.’ No; that's just the beginning,” says Fouse Sheorn.
At completion, participants records can be expunged.
"Breaking those circles is really the important thing,” says Eric Englebardt of the Greenville Bar Association. “We really want to be able to help these situations.”.
If someone is unable or unwilling to fulfill the requirements of homeless court, then their case would be transferred back to the courts.
“I think it's a reflection of Greenville,” says Paoletti. “Greenville is for people and Greenville needs to be safe for everyone. That includes people who are unhoused.”
Homeless Court is anticipated to formally begin in early 2024.