Streets or Services, a new Los Angeles project, provides a voluntary alternative to court to people arrested downtown for nonviolent, nonweapons offenses, the Los Angeles Times reports. The goal is to break the cycle of arrest for petty street crime by addressing the underlying causes of homelessness, said Joel John Roberts of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), which coordinates the program. “We feel if we can just get people through the front door, it’s half the battle,” he said. “People can choose to access services – whether it be mental health counseling, drug addiction or just a bed – and get off the streets.”
The one-year pilot program, funded with a $569,000 federal grant, is administered jointly by the mayor’s office, the Los Angeles Police Department and the city attorney. It operates out of the police station that patrols skid row.
The project was launched while the LAPD cracks down on so-called quality of life crimes, with police sweeps to enforce ordinance against sitting and sleeping in public places. Civil liberties groups have filed lawsuits aimed at blocking such police actions.
When people are arrested for crimes like blocking a sidewalk or relieving themselves in public, if there are no outstanding felonies or history of violent crime, they are referred to a social service coordinator at the police station. A plan is made, possibly including detoxification and emergency housing. Participants perform three days of community service like trash pickup or graffiti removal. If the program is successful, officials hope to expand it to other areas of the city with sizable populations of homeless people, said city attorney spokesman Eric Moses.
Since the program started last month, police have sent 74 people to it. Of those referred, 60 chose to participate. Twenty are enrolled in various recovery and housing programs. Forty have dropped out after receiving some services or did not show up for work assignments; they now are subject to being charged for the original offenses.