LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - It's been six months since Lubbock's Homeless Court went into session. KCBD NewsChannel 11's cameras were invited inside for the first time this week to see how the court is helping people become productive members of society.
"We have not walked in the shoes that they have walked in," Municipal Court Judge Jorge Hernandez said. "They have hit rock bottom. I like the fact they are trying to do something about it."
Judge Hernandez presides over the Homeless Court. He says after he was elected, the Executive Director of Family Promise of Lubbock approached him about starting this program that was previously launched in San Diego, California.
It works with local homeless shelters, agencies and the city prosecutor to provide alternative sentencing for misdemeanor offenses, warrants and any court costs or fines that come with those citations.
"They are here in court because they want to take care of that situation," Hernandez said. "Those are the people we want to reach, the ones who now want to be part of the solution, not only where they can take care of their problems but also help other homeless people take care of their problems."
The defendants must be working with a homeless agency case manager who recommends the case and alternate sentencing to the court. Most defendants are already involved in a program addressing issues like addiction, financial problems and homelessness. Sentencing includes completing those programs, other counseling or community service.
As those infractions are deferred and fines are waived, the homeless participants have a clean slate to obtain jobs or housing.
"We have families coming in all the time who can't get an ID because they owe hundreds of dollars in fines and they can't pay off without having a job first," Family Promise's Director of Family Services Keely Garland said. "This opens the doors to their success."
Garland says the court also gives them hope as the community works to help them out of their difficult situation.
"These are sentences that will help them better themselves, whether it is community service or attending counseling or attending budgeting and life skills classes, something that will boost their self confidence and their abilities in life instead of holding them down," Garland said.
"They are not looking for a handout because they are trying to do something about it," Hernandez said. "They are trying to become sober. They are trying to get jobs. They are trying to attend their meetings. They are trying to be a better person, economically, spiritually and emotionally."
Since the program started in February, a total of $6,252 in fines and court costs have been exchanged for alternative sentencing.