Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Downtown Austin Community Court Celebrates Connecting over 400 People with Housing

On October 1, 2022, The Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC) celebrated 23 years of service to the Austin community. DACC is a diversionary court, which uses alternative forms of adjudication for people charged with low-level offenses by providing connection to services and helping people in their journey out of homelessness. All of DACC’s services are voluntary, and any individual experiencing homelessness in the community can engage in accessing basic needs, social service supports, and case management assistance without requiring any criminal justice involvement. Since 2015, DACC has connected over 400 people to long-term housing solutions.     
Individuals engaging in court services have the option to resolve cases through participation in case management and other activities such as obtaining identification documentation or seeking health, mental health, or treatment services.  In addition to providing person-centered and housing-focused homeless services, DACC has a Community Service Program that provides individuals the option to complete public service hour requirements through graffiti abatement, public space improvement, and assistance with operation of DACC’s Violet KeepSafe Storage (VKS) program.  VKS provides free storage for individuals experiencing homelessness, and has created employment opportunities for individuals with lived experience.
The Center for Court Innovation is a national nonprofit that works with both government and communities to develop and run programs that have reduced the use of incarceration, increased equity, and strengthened neighborhoods by increasing safety and economic opportunity. CCI and DACC have a long-standing partnership, both in developing DACC’s model and collaborating together to help other communities across the country in their evolution toward implementing community courts.
“The Downtown Austin Community Court is one of the earliest replications of the community court model developed by the Center for Court Innovation. Today the court remains an important model for other jurisdictions that are working to follow their example of amplifying core community justice principles such as putting people first with their robust client-centered case management and community advisory board,” said Medina Henry, Director of Community Justice Initiatives and Deputy Director of Training and Technical Assistance for the Center for Court Innovation. “The Center for Court Innovation is thrilled to celebrate the Downtown Austin Community Court's continued leadership on community engagement and its ability to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems and improve public safety.”  
DACC’s voluntary walk-in case management services have a myriad of benefits for the individuals served and for the community. Connecting individuals to social services, basic needs, and housing-focused case management helps people in their journey toward long-term stability and out of homelessness.  Additionally, walk-in case management serves as a diversion from criminal justice involvement by meeting people’s needs before situations escalate to involve law enforcement.
“DACC understands the complexities behind what can lead an individual into homelessness, which is why we use a person-centered approach to our services,” said Peter Valdez, DACC’s Court Administrator. “By creating a welcoming environment, we’ve built trust within the homeless community so people voluntarily seek help with services before involvement with the justice system, allowing us the opportunity to be part of the City’s compassionate response to homelessness and to align with the diversionary principles of community court models.”
DACC is also an integral part of the City’s emergency response system. Throughout COVID-19, DACC was one of the only homeless services in the community that continued in-person services without interruption, and saw requests for walk-in services more than double during the height of the pandemic. In 2020, DACC dedicated 55% of its staff to the City’s efforts to provide Protective Lodging facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness, in addition to expanding homeless services to incorporate COVID safety planning. DACC has also been part of the City’s cold weather response including dedicating staff during Winter Storm Uri and serving as the embarkation site for the City’s cold weather shelter operations during our most recent winter season.
As DACC celebrates another anniversary, the department remains committed to continually evolve to ensure services are responsive to the needs of the Austin community.