SAN ANTONIO – Haven for Hope is gearing up for any possible changes the new Bexar County District Attorney policy toward misdemeanor trespassing could bring about to its jail outreach program.
Kenneth Wilson, CEO Haven for Hope, said he applauds the county's efforts to not jail nonviolent homeless people arrested for misdemeanor trespassing.
"We know there are people in jail that really need to be in a state hospital, that have mental health challenges," Wilson said. "We have studies that show if a person stays in jail, they are much more likely to go back to jail."
District Attorney Joe Gonzales recently announced his office will not prosecute misdemeanor trespassing cases that meet the following conditions:
- The arrest is made at a non-residential place.
- Criminal trespass is the only charge.
- The defendant appears to be homeless.
- The defendant does not have a violent history and is currently not on probation.
"That could change the potential population, so we have to watch that carefully," Wilson said of a program geared toward helping those released from jail who have no place to go.
About 60 people who are part of the jail outreach program are nonviolent detainees. The program provides them with a place to stay and connects them to services that meet their needs.
The program also has peer support specialists, like Jessica Burdon, who once had substance abuse and mental issues of her own.
"Ideally we want everybody to gain stability in their mental health in their recovery, gain financial sustainability (and) then works towards housing," Burdon said.
Burdon said getting homeless people with mental illness the help they need takes patience and compassion. Some people are just not ready for help at the time.
People in the program stay for about four to five months.