D.A. proposes new plan for homeless in justice system

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan

District Attorney Summer Stephan proposed a three-point plan on March 21 in response to two years of county data which reveals homeless individuals become involved with the justice system as victims and perpetrators at higher rates than the rest of the population.
The data was gathered from November 2019 through October 2021 and shows 1,631 homeless defendants had multiple cases filed against them during that two year period.
The plan suggests developing a technology-based solution such as a mobile application that can identify shelter or housing space in real time. It also proposes an enhanced legal program to help clear warrants, dismiss charges, and eliminate fines for individuals who are already engaging in services with homeless service providers. Finally, the plan supports a change in law which would allow a licensed mental health practitioner to involuntarily commit an individual for up to 72-hours for psychiatric treatment.
The District Attorney’s plan would allow for collaborative courts specifically designed to support chronically homeless residents who have co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental health disorders.
The first HELP tier will be a field authorized diversion program that focuses on low level offenses; successful participation will result in no charges being filed.
Tier two of the HELP program will be a specialized track of the DA Community Justice Initiative that focuses on homeless specific services after charges have been filed. DACJI is a misdemeanor diversion program developed in 2018.
The third HELP tier is a proposal to expand or add collaborative courts addressing the intersection of homelessness and crime for non-violent felonies and serial misdemeanants. The goal is to serve high-risk and high-need individuals experiencing homelessness by addressing root causes that contribute to their situation, including mental health and substance use disorders.
Ultimately, the court would ultimately determine the viability of a HELP collaborative court.
Data shows there are higher rates of felony charges where the criminal conduct met the DA’s ethical standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for individuals experiencing homelessness. At the low end, felony assault charges were 130 times higher for homeless individuals; vandalism was 222 times higher than in sheltered residents. Additionally, felony charges for residential burglary, arson and robbery were also all higher.
Data also showed individuals experiencing homelessness are victimized at higher rates than the non-homeless population.
For example, the rate of murder in homeless San Diegans was 19 times higher, attempted murder was 27 times higher and aggravated assault was 12 times higher. Incidents of robbery, domestic violence, elder abuse and sexual assault were also higher.