To help address the root causes of chronic homelessness, the City of Sarasota has launched a homeless court in collaboration with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Office of the State Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which donated $15,000 toward the court's costs. The court recently marked its six-month anniversary; it began on January 8, 2019.
Known as Community Care Court, cases are limited to homeless individuals charged with minor criminal activity within the Sarasota city limits, such as open container, trespassing, lodging out of doors, and public urination, may be eligible for this specialized court, which focuses on causes and solutions for homelessness. Individuals who volunteer to opt into the program may be diverted into available social service programs in the region’s Continuum of Care and other service providers for mental health screening, drug/alcohol assessment, employment and housing opportunities. Community Care Court differs from Comprehensive Treatment Court (CTC) in that CTC is a jail diversion program solely for misdemeanor offenders with chronic mental illness.
A dedicated team of legal and homelessness professionals is assigned to Community Care Court. The same judge presides over the cases along with the same public defender, state attorney, city attorney, homeless outreach coordinator and case managers – all becoming familiar with a homeless individual’s situation and progress over time. The Community Care Court team meets regularly to share case progress reports and make recommendations to the judge regarding compliance. Upon completion of designated social service programs, the misdemeanor charge may be dismissed without a fine, or the penalty reduced.
Since its inception, 21 individuals voluntarily entered the program and five successfully graduated with the criminal charges dismissed. Three were successfully housed.