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Edelman Backs “Community Courts” for the Homeless

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

February 1 -- Ed Edelman -- the former LA County Supervisor and Santa Monica's new high-profile official in charge of homelessness -- is looking to expand his strategy on using criminal courts to help those living on the streets get back on their feet.

Appointed in December by the City Council to a new $200,000 Homeless Secretary post, Edelman's first move when taking office was working to establish a so-called mental health court to take the mentally ill out of the general criminal justice system and hook them into special services.

But now it’s more than a mental health court he wants.

After taking a cross-coast trip to New York City in January with other Los Angeles officials who focus on homelessness, Edelman was impressed with what he called "community courts,” where a variety of offenders are placed according to the type of assistance they would need, including a drug court for addicts and a mental health court for the mentally ill.

“It’s more encompassing than the mental health court,” said the 75-year-old Edelman, whose last name can be seen on various community service and mental health centers throughout Los Angeles County.

Those arrested for misdemeanors, such as urinating in public or sleeping in doorways, would then be sent to the court that would connect them to services, he said.

"It would make petty crimes not petty," said Edelman, "It links the person to social services, lowers crime and stops the revolving doors."

The establishment of community courts in New York City was one on of the reasons for Time Square’s turnaround, he said.

Nearly a decade ago, the famous square was the center of seediness. Petty theft was rampant and the drug addled and mentally disturbed slept in crannies, doorways or even on the sidewalk.

Now all that is gone, and the Big Apple's core is nearly as safe and clean as a stroll through Des Moines, some boosters have said.

“It took the City working with difficult programs, working through community court, linking quality of life cirmes to social services,” Edelman said. “They may not be serious crimes, but they were causing the neighborhood to be brought down.

“It also deals with more difficult offenses for the mentally ill and drug offenders,” he said.

The former supervisor and Los Angeles Council member is responsible for establishing separate courts in other parts of Los Angeles.

However, Edelman will have his work cut out for him, wrangling with the largest urban homeless population in the nation.

The county’s homeless population is higher than ever, with 88,000 people counted across the county during an ambitious census a year ago, according to a study released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Of those, nearly 7,000 were counted on the Westside.

A 1999 count of Santa Monica’s homeless population placed the number at 1,037, according to city officials.

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