by Photo courtesy of San Diego County

Newly released data from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office showed that the homeless population is more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crimes, prompting a prevention strategy. 

A cumulation of two years of county data from November 2019 to October 2021 showed that those experiencing homelessness were involved with crime, as victims or offenders, “at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population”, according to the DA’s office. 

The DA’s office released a three-point plan to address the correlation between homelessness and crime, by reducing the number of unsheltered people living in the streets. The plan comes as a direct response to the data that shows recidivism rates within the two years at 83 percent having two to four new cases filed by local prosecutors, and 15 percent have five to nine cases filed. 

"Bringing humane and effective solutions to the complex and growing problem of individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego County requires a shared strategic plan that creates a sea change," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Plans to develop an app that locates available shelter beds, treatment, and housing options for homeless people are underway. According to the  DA's office, the data collected regarding shelter use and availability would help the county shape effective policies to address future needs and investments.

The DA's plan also includes the development of a Homeless Enhanced Legal Program aimed at addressing the legal issues of those experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as substance abuse and mental health issues. This includes a field authorized diversion program focusing on low-level offenses, a post file diversion program focusing on homeless specific services, and a Collaborative Court serving high-risk and high-need individuals by addressing the root causes of the individual's homelessness, mental health disorders, and/or substance abuse issues.

"This data showing the drastically higher rates of an individual experiencing homelessness becoming a crime victim or offender demonstrate that homelessness is both a humanitarian and a public safety crisis that must be urgently addressed. It is unacceptable to continue to allow individuals to languish in the throes of mental illness, drug addiction, and poverty."

The DA’s office also aims to support a change to state law that would allow for an individual's involuntary commitment for up to 72 hours if they are found by a licensed mental health practitioner to require such psychiatric treatment. Such law only allows for involuntary holds if a person is a danger to themselves, others, or is gravely disabled, according to the DA's office. 

"I acknowledge the many public officials, groups, and individuals in our cities and county who have been working tirelessly on this issue to bring forward many encouraging efforts. In my role as the county's top public safety official, my goal is to bring solutions driven by my team's unique experience where homelessness, mental health issues, and substance use disorders intersect with the criminal justice system."

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