The City of Myrtle Beach hopes to establish a voluntary diversion program for those people who are homeless and find themselves in trouble with the law. The goal is to provide real help for individuals, especially repeat offenders, instead of just issuing more fines or jail sentences.
Those who meet the criteria and ask to go through the Homeless Court will work with New Directions of Horry County to establish a defined treatment plan. As a result, individuals who want help will be able to seek it, rather than spend time in jail or pay a fine. Of course, a person who is homeless and charged with an offense also can remain in the current court system.
The homeless court treatment plan may include a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. It also will feature programs about coping skills, addictive thinking and other helpful topics. New Directions will work with outside agencies to help find housing, medical care, mental health counseling and education and employment services, as needed.
The Myrtle Beach City Council hopes that repeat offenders will see this as a way of getting back on their feet and getting the help and assistance they need. Instead of jail time, they’ll get assistance for whatever issues may have forced them onto the streets. Those who complete the agreed treatment program and services, as determined by the provider and public defender, will have their charges and fines dismissed or reduced as part of the Homeless Court.
Charleston and Columbia currently offer a Homeless Court program, and Myrtle Beach will ask the South Carolina Supreme Court for permission to start one here. Attorney George Cauthen with Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough, offered his services pro bono (for free) to petition the Supreme Court. Once permission is received, the city hopes to have the homeless court in operation by late June.
Myrtle Beach understands that not everyone will choose the diversion program, and not everyone will complete it successfully. However, those who are ready for a change and who successfully complete the treatment program will be on the road to escaping homelessness.