Working to help the homeless in Flint/Genesee County

The Center for Civil Justice (CCJ) has announced the launch of the Flint Genesee Homeless Court Program.

The program is aimed at helping people experiencing homelessness reconcile their offenses with accomplishments in program activities to resolve low-level misdemeanor offenses, traffic fines and warrants to remove legal barriers to housing and self-sufficiency, according to CCJ Executive Director Kelly Bidelman.

Last year, the CCJ, with the assistance of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, held a forum to introduce the idea and explore the interest and need from the community for a homeless court program.

“From the beginning, the response from all of the partners was positive and we immediately started the planning process,” Bidelman said “Steve Binder, the founder of homeless court and ABA Liaison, and Jayesh Patel, founder of Detroit’s homeless court program, Street Outreach Court Detroit, were instrumental in sharing best practices, forms and documents—anything we needed.”

In addition, Bidelman said Judges Larry Williams and Kristina Robinson Garrett “invited folks from our community to observe Street Outreach Court Detroit and offered their assistance as well.”

Program partners include the 67th District Court, the Genesee County prosecutor, sheriff and commission, the city of Flint law department, various parking enforcement agencies, Flint/Genesee Continuum of Care and its various shelters and service agencies.

Supporters of the initiative include 67th District Court Judge G. David Guinn.

“Treatment-oriented diversion programs work,” he sad, “as evidenced by the many specialty courts that we have in Genesee County.”

Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson who recently made national news for removing his riot gear and walking with Flint protestors in a peaceful march for racial justice, echoed the support of others and cited the potential savings for the community.

“If someone is arrested, there are costs for the arrest, warrant, jail time and police officer time,” Swanson said. “For a person experiencing homelessness with no ability to pay, it doesn’t make sense to take a hardline approach.”

The Center for Civil Justice advocates for rights of people experiencing poverty in Michigan. CCJ strives to achieve systemic change that improves the lives of low-income Michigan residents and secure greater access to basic needs, including food and nutrition, healthcare and housing.

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