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Homeless more likely to be crime victims and perpetrators in San Diego County according to DA

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Susan Murphy
Homeless people stand in front of their make-shift shelters on 17th Street in San Diego's East Village, June 28, 2016.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office announced a strategy Monday to prevent the homeless from being involved with crime, following the release of data showing homeless people in the county were more likely to be both crime victims and perpetrators.

According to the DA's office, based on two years of county data compiled from November 2019 until October 2021, those experiencing homelessness have been involved with crime "at dramatically higher rates than the rest of the population," whether as victims or offenders.

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Recidivism rates were also high for homeless individuals during the two-year period examined, with 83% of homeless defendants who became repeat offenders having two to four new cases filed against them by local prosecutors, and 15% of such defendants having five to nine new cases filed.

In response, the DA's office released a three-point plan it says will address the correlation between homelessness and crime by reducing the number of unsheltered people living on the streets.

The plan includes:

— Developing an app that locates available shelter beds, treatment, and housing options for homeless people. The DA's office says the data collected regarding shelter use and availability would help the county shape effective policies to address future needs and investments.

— The development of a Homeless Enhanced Legal Program aimed at addressing the legal issues of those experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as substance abuse and mental health issues. The three-tiered program would include a field authorized diversion program focusing on low-level offenses, a post file diversion program focusing on homeless specific services, and a Collaborative Court serving high-risk and high-need individuals by addressing the root causes of the individual's homelessness, mental health disorders and/or substance abuse issues.

— Supporting a change to state law that would allow for an individual's involuntary commitment for up to 72 hours if they are found by a licensed mental health practitioner to require such psychiatric treatment. The DA's office says current law only allows for involuntary holds if a person is a danger to themselves or others, or is gravely disabled.

"Bringing humane and effective solutions to the complex and growing problem of individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego County requires a shared strategic plan that creates a sea change," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.

"I acknowledge the many public officials, groups and individuals in our cities and county who have been working tirelessly on this issue to bring forward many encouraging efforts. In my role as the county's top public safety official, my goal is to bring solutions driven by my team's unique experience where homelessness, mental health issues and substance use disorders intersect with the criminal justice system.

"This data showing the drastically higher rates of an individual experiencing homelessness becoming a crime victim or offender demonstrate that homelessness is both a humanitarian and a public safety crisis that must be urgently addressed. It is unacceptable to continue to allow individuals to languish in the throes of mental illness, drug addiction and poverty."