Santa Monica’s Homeless Community Court pilot program was officially launched Friday, February 2nd. The court will serve the chronically homeless of Santa Monica by providing “therapeutic justice.”

The homeless court’s goal is to resolve the warrants and minor crime issues of the chronically homeless — such as tickets for jaywalking and loitering — and to compel them to seek city services and “get stability in their lives and be independent, instead of putting them in jail, which is not the prescription they need,” said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the Board of Supervisors Third District, which includes Santa Monica.

“A regular criminal court can’t address the unique needs of a homeless person the way a homeless court can,” Yaroslavsky said.

The homeless served by the court will “have their jail time waived and their warrants canceled in exchange for them going into some kind of rehab service program,” Yaroslavsky said.

“It’s a major milestone for us,” said Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager for community relations. “It’s one additional tool to deal with the issues of homelessness and quality of life in the community.”

The court sessions, which are held in Santa Monica City Council Chambers, will take place one Friday a month at 1:30 p.m. The judge is Bobby Tillmon.

Four chronically homeless people had their cases heard at the court at the February 2nd launch, although up to about 15 could be seen during a court session, said Vernez.

“It was very, very uplifting,” said Vernez. “Everybody’s very excited about the launch — and moved.

“I mean, these are people that really want to turn their lives around. It’s really relying on the notion of therapeutic justice.”

Vernez says she is hoping the chronically homeless will “use the court as the gateway to services that will help them turn their life around.”

The Homeless Community Court pilot program, which has been in the works for some time, is the result of a cooperative effort of the City of Santa Monica and the county, spearheaded by Yaroslavsky, said district officials.

“It’s a good partnership” between the city and the county, Yaroslavsky said. “It has really been an exhibition of teamwork. We’re very excited about it.”

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