Long Beach’s Homeless Court is officially in session and its participants can have old convictions and charges expunged or dismissed while being connected to services to try and obtain housing or work.

The project is being funded by a $254,000 grant from Los Angeles County and will be run out of the Long Beach Multi-Service Center, potentially through June 2022.

The Homeless Court will allow those experiencing homelessness to have potentially limiting legal convictions for low-level offenses be removed, reduced or expunged while also gaining access to emergency shelters, disability benefits, medical care and help with mental health or substance abuse.

Hosting the court at the Multi-Service Center could make connecting people to those services easier. The center provides outreach services, case management, intake services and handles referrals for shelters and other social service programs.

A test session held earlier this month saw ten people receive assistance with their cases but the program is expected to help hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

“This is a great opportunity for us to engage unsheltered people in an effort to get them off the streets and into services,” City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said in a statement.

“Long Beach is investing in strategies like having mental health clinicians at the police station, the Priority Access Diversion program, and trauma-informed systems. Getting people into services will make our neighborhoods safer.”

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness about 48,000 people per year who enter shelters are coming directly from prisons or jails, and as many as 15% of people incarcerated every year have reported experiencing  homelessness.

Officials are hopeful this program could help break that cycle. By starting its own Homeless Court, Long Beach becomes one of about 70 agencies nationwide to have one, according to the Council on Homelessness

The state’s first Homeless Court was established in 1989 as part of a program in San Diego which mostly served homeless veterans. Los Angeles started its Homeless Court in November 2000.

Haubert was invited by County Supervisor Janice Hahn earlier this year to look at the Redondo Beach court to see if it could work in Long Beach. Haubert told the Post last month that Redondo Beach was an inspiration but acknowledged Long Beach’s program would likely have to be bigger.

His office had previously created a diversion program in 2018 to help those experiencing homelessness receive alternatives to fines and incarceration.

Those experiencing homelessness who want to participate in the Homeless Court can be referred by the Multi-Service Center or by nonprofit service providers and first responders, according to a city release.

The next Homeless Court session is scheduled for July 21.

Advance registration is required to participate in the court and details on how to register can be found here.

The Long Beach Multi-Service Center is located at 1301 W. 12th Street.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.