Santa Fe’s Outreach Court Program aims to help the homeless

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8 Jan. – The city has launched a program for homeless people sued by the Santa Fe Municipal Court that offers alternative solutions to meet the court’s requirements instead of jail time, fines and fees.

The Outreach Court Program began in early December as a partnership between the city’s prosecutor, the public defender and local organizations that provide services to the homeless and precarious housing population of the city.

“It really ties in with the individual needs of the defendant or the individual job they’re doing,” said Chad Chittum, municipal court attorney. “It’s not a blanket 24-hour community service, after which the case is dropped. It gives a lot of direction to service providers who are in a really good place to know what a defendant needs.”

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Chittum said the program works with providers such as The Life Link, Christ St. Vincent Regional Medical Center’s High Utilizer Group Services (known as HUGS) and the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place to develop individual case solutions, including job training, substance abuse treatment or work to a GED certificate.

Any alternative resolution is recommended by service providers, Chittum said, but must be approved by a state attorney, a public defender and a municipal judge.

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City officials modeled the program on the San Diego Homeless Court, which relies on “local community service providers who are the gateway for participants to voluntarily participate in the program,” according to a memo from municipal judge Virginia Vigil.

Former Santa Fe Municipal Judge Ann Yalman began a similar program called Homeless Court in 2006, which operated monthly out of St. Elizabeth Shelters and Supportive Housing.

Chittum said Homeless Court had been “put on hold” during the coronavirus pandemic. Outreach Court, he added, is a “service provider-driven” variant.

“It’s aimed at defendants and clients who are already engaged, so they’re already trying to help themselves,” Chittum said. “We recognize the efforts they’re already making with regards to getting into substance abuse issues, for example.”

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According to Vigil’s memo, most felony cases not involving a DWI charge are eligible for the program, including criminal and traffic charges.

Outreach Court “hearings” consist of meetings between a city prosecutor, public defender, and judge at monthly-scheduled provider locations. Once admitted to the program, a defendant is not required to go to municipal court.

In its first month, Chittum said, the program has seen one completion and “a few referrals.”