‘Homeless court’ finds housing for Oahu street dwellers

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HONOLULU — Oahu’s new “homeless court” initiative has cleared a backlog of 268 cases and has found housing for four homeless defendants housed since it began in January.

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HONOLULU — Oahu’s new “homeless court” initiative has cleared a backlog of 268 cases and has found housing for four homeless defendants housed since it began in January.

Public Defender Jack Tonaki and Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald created the Community Outreach Court, dubbed “homeless court,” to resolve outstanding court cases for homeless individuals while also getting them into housing.

The court has had 21 defendants appear before it so far, including three who were placed in transitional housing and a chronically homeless man who now has an apartment after living nearly 30 years on the street.

“This is a success story worth talking about,” Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro said in a statement. “Not only were numerous cases and warrants cleared from the judiciary calendar, this gentleman was able to get into a home with the help of a nonprofit working with Community Outreach Court.”

Officials want to expand the court across Oahu, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Hawaii’s state Legislature has agreed to fund $445,000 for each of the next two years to provide staff for the Community Outreach Court.

“I’m really excited about it,” said social worker Aashish Hemrajani, an outreach for Community Health Outreach Work, a nonprofit group established in 1993 to curb drug overdoses and diseases related to syringes. Project workers meet with defendants who appear at the court.

“The aim is to get them connected with the services they need,” Hemrajani said.

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The unidentified man who was homeless for nearly 30 years faced 33 court cases for infractions, bench warrants and other nonviolent offenses dating back to 2005.

He was placed in an apartment through the city’s Housing First program, Hemrajani said.

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