PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In an effort to address low-level offenses, a community court that focuses on concerns that impact livability launched in Vancouver on Monday.

In a release, the City of Vancouver said the community court is intended to remove barriers by directly connecting participants with services.

“Vancouver’s new community court program is set up to compassionately and intelligently [to] address lower-level crimes,” said City Attorney Jonathan Young. “Offenses such as camping in an ecologically sensitive area can now be addressed with meaningful consequences that have a positive impact on our community and break down barriers that have historically prevented people from finding jobs and permanent housing.”

Eligible offenses will be cited into community court where, on the scheduled court date, a court-appointed attorney will go through the process, review the police report and advise their client before entering the program. Participants will undergo a needs assessment where they will have to meet with providers that help with services including housing, mental and behavioral health, and disability.

If the required conditions are completed, charges will be dismissed. However, a warrant will be issued if the individual doesn’t appear or participate and their case will be moved to “regular” court.

The process can take six weeks instead of the six months of going to different court dates before getting a sentence.

It’s a new solution for dealing with what the city calls “quality of life” crimes while also connecting people who may be homeless to job and housing services.

Josh Lair of Community and Law Enforcement Outreach with Ideal Option said it’s time to start figuring out what is the root of the issue.

“Houselessness is a hot topic, it doesn’t matter where you go in the United States, it’s a hot topic,” he said. “We can’t continue to just Band-Aid the situation. We have to figure out what is the root cause.”

The community court will hear the following ten offenses:

  • Criminal Trespass 2
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Intoxicating Liquor in the Park
  • Park Curfew Violation
  • Pedestrian Interference
  • Unlawful Bus Conduct
  • Unlawful Camping
  • Unlawful Storage of Personal Property in Public
  • Unlawful Transit Conduct
  • Urinating in Public

The court is held every Monday at the Recovery Cafe, a service provider that’s centrally located and off of a bus line.

Just outside the courtroom are service providers working in job training, substance use treatment, education and housing.

“Sometimes folks just need those little helping hands to help them get over barriers,” said Clara Johnson of Council for the Homeless.

It’s a kind of diversion program that also means someone in the court will be put on a work crew– picking up litter, restoring a river bank, or some other beautification process.

Vancouver City Attorney Jonathan Young said it also helps build the resumes and job suitability of people who are looking for jobs.

The alternative to this six-week program is the traditional court system – where hearings can be spread out over months, and services providers are disconnected from the court house.

“They’re operating from survival mode, so to expect them to do all of these different things I don’t think is necessarily fair,” Lair said.

Vancouver is the latest city to take this on. Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzales has expressed interest in it as well.

The effort is a collaboration between the City of Vancouver, Clark County District Court, Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program, and multiple service and treatment providers like the Homeless, Columbia River Mental Health and Clark County Veterans Assistant Center.

KOIN 6 will have more on this later in the day.