Homeless Removed from Jails, Criminals from Shelters

Homeless Removed from Jails, Criminals from Shelters

To slow the “revolving door” between incarceration and homelessness, Flagstaff, Ariz., is pursuing initiatives to enhance community and in-custody substance abuse treatment, reported The Arizona Daily Sun. In September, voters approved a 0.2 cent increase to the county sales tax. The increase gives the county an additional $4.3 million to adequately fund the jail district and launch a new alcohol and drug treatment program for inmates who are repeat offenders. Officials expect the new program to start in February or March and serve 24 inmates at a time, at a cost of $200,000 per year. Also, a Mental Health Court begun by the Flagstaff Municipal Court in October seeks to ensure that mentally ill defendants who commit misdemeanor crimes stay in treatment. To further prevent people with mental illness from entering jail, Flagstaff police officers are being trained to identify and respond to such individuals. The city also is partnering with the county, tribes, and the Northern Arizona Behavioral Health Authority to fund the operation of a new 12-bed detox unit, expected to open in July.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced a new initiative to address public safety and health concerns arising from the city’s homeless population, reported The Boston Globe and a press release from the mayor’s office. According to Menino, the city plans to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment, create a special re-entry program for recently incarcerated homeless people, and work with partners to place older homeless people in permanent supportive housing. As part of this Homeless Protection Program, a deputy superintendent with the Boston Police Department will be assigned to work with community police officers and homeless advocates to handle public safety issues. The city’s police commissioner said the appointee will explore ways to deal with criminals and ex-offenders who blend in with homeless shelter residents and then commit crimes. According to shelter workers, some homeless people have been robbed by other shelter residents after cashing benefits checks.

Columbia, S.C., has been barred from tapping into a national database used by homeless service providers and researchers, reported The State. When homeless people check into shelters, they complete forms asking for their name, Social Security number, the reason for their homelessness, and other private information. It is a violation of federal law to share the information with anyone else, including law enforcement officials. For about 21/2 weeks, city police pulled names and Social Security numbers to run criminal checks and make arrests. When the local agency overseeing use of the database learned of the checks, it revoked the city’s access. Now the city is requiring shelter residents to sign a new intake form. Some local and national homeless advocates are asking the city to stop homeless background checks, saying arrests for such crimes as panhandling continue the cycle of homelessness. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble defended the tracking efforts, saying increased security efforts can help mitigate neighborhood resistance to homeless facilities. Though most of the 38 arrests made via the database information involved misdemeanors, two charges were for more serious crimes, said another city official.

More Help for Mental Illnesses, Drug Abuse
12/26/2006 | The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff)

Boston to Launch New Initiative on the Homeless
12/27/2006 | The Boston Globe

Mayor Announces Homeless Protection Program
12/27/2006 | US States News

City Denied Access to Homeless Database
12/19/2006 | The State (Columbia, South Carolina)