Street Outreach Court gives new hope

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“It’s a relief. I have a sense that change and a second chance are possible,” said Ms. Turner.

Ms. Turner, who’s name has been changed for this article, just had several hundred dollars in traffic fees and levies substantially reduced as part of the 36th District Street Outreach Court Detroit. Street Outreach Court helps guests tackle challenges at the root level. The Capuchin Soup Kitchen is one of six organizations participating in this specialty court within the 36th District Court.

Street Outreach Court gives guests a chance to resolve certain civil infractions, misdemeanors, and parking tickets. Detroit Action Commonwealth, a citywide grassroots nonprofit organization, first identified and voiced the need for a program like Street Outreach Court. In 2013, the gavel came down for the first time, and Street Outreach Court was declared in session. Volunteer judges, along with their staff from 36th District Court, as well as attorneys, hold court monthly from the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Meldrum meal site.

“The program helps guests get their driver’s licenses back,” said Mary Baumgartner, street court case manager for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. The court does not dismiss anything related to alcohol or impaired driving but does offer assistance with parking tickets and minor traffic infractions. “The purpose of the program is to get people to stabilize their lives, their housing, and their income.” 

In a region like Detroit, with limited public transportation, losing a driver’s license can trigger job loss, which can spiral into a crisis. A ticket that goes unpaid is compounded with late fees and fines and potentially warrants on top of that. The cost of reinstating a license creates a barrier to finding and holding meaningful employment and can trap people in a downward spiral.

Guests who receive relief from the courts have court-mandated homework to do. “Guests have to earn the relief that the court gives them,” said Baumgartner. “The court requires them to do what we call an action plan or action steps. The big three are stabilizing your housing, finding a legal source of income, including going to school, or getting into job training, as well as completing community service.”

Ms. Turner completed 160 hours of community service, above and beyond the 144 hours the court required. She is enrolled in a pre-nursing program at Wayne County Community College District. Ms. Turner completed a portion of her community service as a volunteer at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Conner meal site. “Everybody’s situation is different,” said Ms. Turner. “We all pull together to help each other out.”

Street Outreach Court is an example of what can happen when the government, nonprofits, community activists, and other stakeholders take collective action to create positive outcomes for citizens. 

Read more about the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in our recent newsletter.