January 11, 2024 10:18 AM
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (Jan. 11, 2024) – Qualifying individuals experiencing homelessness and mental health or substance abuse issues who commit a misdemeanor in Santa Monica will now have access to a monthly Shelter, Treatment, and Empowerment Program, known as STEP Court.
Establishing STEP Court, which soft launched on Jan. 10, marks a crucial step towards advancing the city’s key strategic priority of Addressing Homelessness.
STEP Court is a community-based, prosecutor-led collaborative diversion court that focuses on resources rather than criminalization, aiming to streamline connection to social services, address recidivism and ultimately reduce the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica.
STEP Court will operate every second Wednesday of the month in Santa Monica, overseen by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in a non-formal setting. Resource navigators from Exodus Recovery, Inc. will meet with program participants to assist with accessing available resources, including but not limited to obtaining identification, mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing voucher applications, and transportation to regional housing authorities.
By bringing this service into Santa Monica, STEP Court will help reduce barriers for participants, such as proximity and atmosphere, allowing them to address and move forward from minor criminal charges.
To ensure that program participants are making progress and to address any obstacles that come up along the way, resource navigators will regularly provide detailed progress as participants complete all recommendations. Once a participant has completed all recommendations, including participating in treatment and, where appropriate, obtaining long-term permanent housing, their case(s) will be dismissed.
“A diversion program like STEP Court focuses on helping people off the streets and reclaim their lives through resource navigation rather than continued punitive measures,” Mayor Phil Brock said. “I’m thrilled that the program is already seeing momentum and thank the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for their partnership.”
Wednesday’s inaugural session of STEP Court saw five participants, four of whom accepted the program recommendations and are set to return next month with progress on the orders the judge issued.
“The court is proud to partner with the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office to facilitate the innovative STEP Court program and its mission to assist justice-involved, unhoused individuals in the city of Santa Monica,” said Samantha P. Jessner, presiding judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. “STEP Court represents forward-thinking, collaborative justice, and reflects the court’s commitment to work with justice partners and elected officials to address the county’s homelessness crisis. I thank the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office for their partnership and their efforts in making this new program a reality.”
STEP Court is funded for the next three years primarily by a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, along with a grant from the State Bar of California and funding from the federal Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnerships American Rescue Plan Program.
The program adds to Santa Monica’s existing portfolio of diversion initiatives, including the Alternatives to Incarceration Pre-Filing Diversion Program and Retail Theft Diversion, which provide access to resource navigation as well as the chance to prevent criminal charges from being filed.
For more information on homelessness services and resources in Santa Monica, visit santamonica.gov/connect-with-homelessness-services.
Public Information Officer