Local homeless shelters and agencies are the gateway for participants to enter this court. Homeless persons who want to appear must sign up through one of a number of local shelters. The HCP "sentences" participants to activities in the shelter program.
The sentence is “credit for time served” for the participant’s accomplishments in program activities. These activities include life-skills, chemical dependency or AA/NA meetings, computer and literacy classes, training or searching for employment, medical care (physical and mental), counseling, and volunteer work. These activities replace the traditional court sentence options of fines, public work service and custody. The HCP sentencing structure is not coercive or punitive in nature, but rather designed to assist homeless participants with reintegration into society.
In San Diego, the traditional court sentence for a municipal code violation is a fine of $300. In the traditional court setting, a defendant will receive $50.00 “credit” against a fine for every day spent in custody. The defendant who spends two days in custody receives credit for a $100.00 fine. To satisfy a fine of $300.00, the court requires a defendant spend 6 days in custody. Thirty days in custody is the equivalent of a $1,500.00 fine.
The court might convert this fine to six days of public service work or the equivalent time in custody. The traditional punishment for a petty theft is one day in custody (for book and release), $400 in fines, victim restitution, and an eight-hour shoplifter course. When someone is convicted of being under the influence of a controlled substance for the first time, he/she faces a mandatory 90 days in custody or the option of completing a diversion program. The diversion program includes an enrollment orientation, 20 hours of education (two hours a week for 10 weeks), individual session (biweekly for three months, 15 minutes each), drug testing, weekly self-help meetings, and an exit conference.
Typically, the HCP participant has already been in a shelter program for at least 30 days (from the initial point of registration to the hearing date) when standing before the judge at the shelter for Homeless Court. By this point, their level of activities in the shelter or a service agency exceeds the requirements of the traditional court order. While program activities vary from one shelter to another, they usually involve a greater time commitment than traditional court orders and introspection for their participants. Program staff ensures the homeless participants are already successful in their efforts to leave the streets before they enter the courtroom. These individuals are on the right track before they meet the judge at the HCP.