Photo: Shea works on a Community Restoration project with other Community Court participant
We recognize that coordinated services in our downtown are critical for helping those in need. Community Court helps people who have been cited in downtown move out of the criminal justice system and toward an improved quality of life through supervised community service and direct connections to social service providers.
We talk here with Shea, a recent graduate of Community Court, about his experience in the program.
Why did you opt into the Community Court program?
It was an opportunity for me to handle my minor charge for drinking a beer in public without it staying on my record. Had it been a regular ticket, I would have been charged a fine I couldn't pay and possibly even spend a couple days in jail. Community Court had representatives from all kinds of services in Eugene under one roof for you to talk to. I was referred to the folks from ShelterCare, which made it possible for me to get my housing through a Shelter Plus grant.
What challenges did you face in completing the program?
There was one time while in the program that I was caught again drinking beer outside, and I was scared that I ruined my chance at housing. But thankfully, the lawyers and judge gave me a second chance and that was the last time I've had a ticket for ANYTHING downtown or elsewhere in Eugene.
What did you appreciate about Community Court?
Community Courts I’ve been to in other cities were "homeless" courts that singled out and discriminated against homeless folks. They were the only demographic of people you'd see in the court and they'd get fined or jailed or both. This is the first time I've seen the judicial system make an effort to give people an option to get a leg up if they wanted it, the first time I’ve seen this effort to decriminalize extreme poverty, mental illness and drug addiction.
Another awesome thing was that you didn't have to get in trouble to seek services. You could just walk in and ask to speak with someone based on your needs. It made me hopeful for other cities with similar issues and hopeful for others who would like the help.
What have you been up to since graduation?
I got my own apartment last month, and it feels good having a place to go at the end of the day. It was a surreal experience just to pour myself a bowl of cereal in my own apartment: for the past 20 years I haven’t had something like this.
I'm continuing to work on things I can do to raise my quality of life. I haven't hung out downtown as much. I've cut my drinking down considerably. I'm thinking about finding a new hobby or other activities that are healthier. I liked what Community Court was doing so much that I’ve started volunteering for it, to help other folks get their cases dismissed and connect them with providers. I'm getting set up with Vocational Rehab which, I believe, will help me find employment. I’m going to appointments with providers on my own. I’m looking for a couch for my apartment.
Long story short: I'm doing me. Working on myself to make myself happier and stay that way.
Community Court needs volunteers to help support success for participants like Shea. Visit the website or email for more information.