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MEDIA ALERT The path out of homelessness is a complicated one, often met with many obstacles. A program created by Springfield Municipal Court, the Springfield Police Department, the City Prosecutor’s Office, Legal Services of Southwest Missouri and community homeless services agencies such as Burrell Behavioral Health, The Kitchen Inc., and Clarity Recovery, aims to remove one such obstacle on the path out of homelessness: unresolved legal issues. Modeled after the first homeless court program in the nation, created in San Diego in 1989, Springfield’s Homeless Court convenes at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in a conference room at The Kitchen, 1630 N. Jefferson. The court's first success stories will "graduate" from the program tomorrow evening. “Homeless Court is a special court session for homeless defendants to resolve outstanding nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, fines and warrants within the City of Springfield’s Municipal Court,” says Annie Busch, former co-chair of Springfield’s Homeless Task Force. Busch and others on the task force began planning a court to serve Springfield’s homeless population in 2010. Busch says the mission of Homeless Court is to establish a system of justice that facilitates understanding and remediation of the underlying causes of homelessness. “The court strives to help the homeless it serves to gain improved understanding of and then better address the many legal, social, behavioral and medical barriers known to impede progress out of homelessness and prevent homeless persons from reaching their full potential. The overarching goal is to help each person served become a contributing member of the Springfield/Greene County community,” she added. The Kitchen is a good venue for the court, according to Springfield Municipal Court Judge Becky Borthwick, who serves as Homeless Court’s chief judge. “Homeless Court is a treatment court, so it resembles a counseling session more than a court session. The courthouse atmosphere can be a barrier to some defendants, so having our sessions away from the courthouse can improve participation,” she says. Referrals to Homeless Court originate from Municipal Court judges, probation officers, prosecuting attorneys, police officers and homeless service agencies. “Defendants accepted into the Homeless Court program work with a treatment team comprised of the judge, city prosecutor, probation officers, Legal Services attorneys, several service agencies and community members who are volunteering their time to help. The team works together to assist the participants in securing housing, obtaining benefits and finding employment,” Judge Borthwick says. “I am amazed at the number of people who are willing to volunteer their time to make this work. We wanted to create a program where the city would not incur any additional cost,” she added. The team provides transportation, hygiene supplies, bus passes and other necessities to defendants, even if they are not selected for the program. Representatives from The Kitchen and Burrell attend each session and are an integral part of the court, she added. “A Burrell worker took one defendant to voluntary detox after the February session, though he was not accepted into the program,” Judge Borthwick says. “We help as many people who come to us as we can.” The court operates similarly to a drug court or mental health court, but in Homeless Court, defendants have the chance to work off their fines with accomplishments such as maintaining housing, obtaining life-skills training, attending chemical dependency or AA/NA meetings, attending computer and literacy classes, training or searching for employment, and/or obtaining medical care and/or mental health treatment. “The defendants waive a lot of their privacy rights when they agree to be part of this program. We are checking on them to make sure they are going to their doctor’s appointments, taking their medication, going to their meetings and staying in compliance with the program,” Judge Borthwick says. “If we can help one or two people, that is one or two we have kept out of the Greene County Jail and off the street,” she added. In addition to Burrell and The Kitchen, representatives from the Missouri Career Center are also on-site at each court session to assist defendants with reemployment. “The Career Center has several programs to help defendants reenter the workforce,” Judge Borthwick says. During its first two sessions in January and February, the court accepted five defendants into the program and anticipates accepting three more. As the defendants progress through the program, additional defendants will be accepted, Judge Borthwick says. ### For more information, please call Judge Becky Borthwick at 417-864-1890 or Annie Busch at 417-425-8137.