News Article Details

Homeless court grows, could expand to mentally ill

St. Joseph News-Press - 11/12/2018

Nov. 12--A municipal court program designed to help homeless people get back on their feet could expand to others in need of assistance.

St. Joseph's Homeless Court began in April of this year when Municipal Judge John Boeh reached out to United Way and the St. Joseph Police Department with plans to create a local court process designed to get homeless offenders in touch with agencies who could assist them.

Boeh said the program has helped people, and the number of people who apply continues to grow.

"Our numbers have grown of people who are willing to get into the program and we've had some success with the program with people that we've helped who have moved on and are not in such a bad position," Boeh said.

He said now they are looking at including people with mental illnesses in the court.

"There are some mental health issues that people have that aren't homeless that could maybe be helped by this same court," Boeh said. "We might expand the court to include homeless people and those who are suffering from mental health issues."

As of last month, 24 individuals were enrolled in homeless court and individuals had been helped to acquire bus passes, get housing and enroll in Medicaid, according to St. Joseph Prosecutor Laura Chavez.

Boeh said the court -- which is held the second Wednesday of every month -- mostly sees cases that are related to homelessness such as minor theft, trespassing and substance abuse.

Those individuals are evaluated to make sure they are homeless if they apply for Homeless Court, then they are matched up with agencies that can help provide them a place to stay, find them a job or help them deal with substance abuse issues.

"We can only help those who help themselves, like anything else in life," Boeh said. "If you can give them an opportunity, some of them have never had that opportunity to help themselves and bring themselves up. That's what we're trying to do, we've had some success and we're going to continue it."

He said the court will help limit repeat offenses since many of the crimes only occur because the individual is homeless.

Boeh has met with Presiding Circuit Judge Patrick Robb about expanding the program into the circuit divisions and said there has been some interest in creating a Circuit Homeless Court.

Brendan Welch can be reached at brendan.welch@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWelch.

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