SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – A municipal judge hopes to create a homeless court that could break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in Spartanburg.
At just 29-year-old, Teresa Turner had a stroke that left her bound to a wheelchair. Turner tells 7News 3 weeks ago she found herself without a place to call home.
“Did you ever picture your life being like this?” Asked 7News Reporter Stefany Bornman.
“No I didn’t,” Turner said. “God put me in this situation for some reason and he’ll work our way out of it.”
Turner says she may not have any money or a roof over her head, but she will never break the law.
“Shoplifting is not an option for me. I’ll do without first,” said Turner.
Judge Erika McJimpsey hears hundreds of cases where the homeless are tried for crimes she says they can’t help but commit.
“If I am homeless and I’m trespassing maybe that’s the only place that I have to be,” McJimpsey said. “If I am homeless and I am charged with [public intoxication] I don’t have access to money to pay fines. So oftentimes you are facing the dynamics of criminalizing behavior that people really don’t have the ability to control.”
McJimpsey says every year the number of these cases in her courtroom continues to grow, further trapping the homeless into an even deeper cycle of poverty and homelessness.
“Because of these charges many of them are prohibited from getting the types of jobs that would make them more viable,” she told 7News.
But McJimpsey has a plan to break the cycle through a homeless court. She says individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes would complete a treatment program making them eligible to have their charges reduced, dismissed or expunged.
“So really there’s a second chance, a new opportunity, to get a fresh start,” McJimpsey told 7News.
“I think the homeless court will probably restore some dignity and hope to them,” Spartanburg Soup Kitchen Executive Director Lou Sartor told 7News. “I feel like rather than going to a courtroom setting they would be in a setting where maybe resolutions can happen for them. Who knows how it might even change their life.”
McJimpsey says the state supreme court has to approve the establishment of the homeless court in Spartanburg. It could be approved as soon as October. If it is approved, McJimpsey hopes to have the program running as early as December or January.
The misdemeanor crimes that would be considered include shoplifting, disorderly conduct, trespassing and public intoxication. The crime must have been committed within the Spartanburg City limits.