Memphis’ First ‘Street Court’ Brings Relief and Opportunity to Homeless

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Patricia Tia. PHC volunteer and formerly homeless

In 2009, she was arrested for prostitution. It wasn’t the first time she’d been jailed for it.  It would be her last. That’s because people from a church that cared for the homeless, cared for her. Tia is now married and has recently completed her associates degree in substance abuse counseling. She’s also a volunteer for Project Homeless Connect.

On a cloudy Thursday afternoon in Memphis, Tia and more than 800 other Memphians spent their day helping roughly half of the city’s homeless population connect to vital services. Services that could give more people like Tia another chance.

Project Homeless Connect Memphis is a massive one-day event which hosts many of the resources and services an individual needs to overcome homelessness. Resources included medical, dental, veterans benefits, housing assistance and legal.

Project Homeless Connect in the Cook Convention Ctr.

Project Homeless Connect
in the Cook Convention Ctr.

This year, participants had the opportunity to clear up past criminal issues in a working General Sessions Court inside the Cook Convention Center.

The Shelby County Public Defender, the District Attorney General, Judge Karen Massey and the General Sessions Criminal Court Clerk collaborated to create a first of its kind in Memphis “Street Court.”

Street Court

Street Court

University of Memphis law students worked legal triage in the main event hall by researching and preparing clients.

Lawyers from the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office then met with clients, filed motions and presented cases to the judge.

At the end of this day-long legal blitz, more than 160 people received legal counseling on a variety of matters and 20 cases were resolved by Judge Massey.

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Diana McClure, PHC volunteer,
with homeless client, Edward

McClure said it’s been a learning experience, “he’s given me so much respect for how things can go so wrong for someone, so quickly. How one thing can make everything spiral out of control.  How he keeps his sanity is beyond me.”

“What we’re trying to do today is give relief to those already facing hardship. What we are mostly seeing are old court costs and fines,” said Street Court organizer and Shelby County Public Defender Josh Spickler. “These are costs that these clients would never be able to pay and could be barriers to finding jobs and housing.  This was our effort to remove just one more obstacle.”

Click here to see a story about Street Court on WREG-TV.


Click here for story about Street Court on ABC24.com

Former journalism professor and television reporter. Now, bringing it all together writing and working special projects for the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender.

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Posted in Justice Reform, Outreach, Poverty
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