SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Spartanburg City leaders took the first step towards breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness this week.
On Wednesday, the city held the inaugural Homeless Court at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.
Judge Erika McJimpsey first presented the idea after seeing a rise in misdemeanor cases that are trapping people into poverty. She says in most cases the individuals are homeless and their charged keep them from getting jobs. McJimpsey says that prevents those people from turning their situation around.
Valencia Williams sat next to her attorney who took her case pro bono. She says earlier this year a tragedy flipped her life upside down.
“My mother died in March,” she told 7News.
Williams felt lost.
“I just quit work [and I] just didn’t want to do anything. [I was] running around [and] sleeping in my car,” she said.
With no income, the longtime Certified Nursing Assistant turned to shoplifting. She says when she was charged she felt hopeless.
That was until her court date when a judge told her about Homeless Court.
“It was a life-changing moment for me,” Williams said.
Williams’ plead her case during the alternative court.
“I didn’t know what to expect so I’m really excited to see the level of support that is here today,” said Judge McJimpsey.
The court is for homeless individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses. In order to participate people must prove they are in treatment programs to improve their lifestyles.
“If they do, we can go and reopen their pending cases and dismiss those pending cases,” said George Cauthen, the city’s Homeless Court consultant. “We can also go and reopen old cases and clean those up too.”
A judge will review the individual cases and decide whether to reduce, dismiss or expunge charges.
“That opens doors because oftentimes people are barred from employment based on their criminal history,” said McJimpsey.
Shoplifting charges are keeping Williams from getting a second job which she needs to pay bills and find permanent housing.
She says with a clean record she has big plans for the new year.
“I’m going to be a nurse and I’m going to have my parttime job. 2020 is going to be my year!” She said.
Judge McJimpsey plans to hold Homeless Court on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.