Fighting Homelessness - Homeless courts are popping up nationwide

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – (June 29, 2017) The state court system may not seem like the most obvious institution to help solve the nation’s homeless problem, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

To keep nonviolent homeless people from clogging local jails, homeless courts are slowly popping up throughout the nation. With the newest one opening earlier this year, there are now 31 homeless courts in 13 states.

These courts, which focus on rehabilitation and try to help the homeless find housing and jobs, typically handle cases in which people are charged with misdemeanor criminal crimes, such as trespassing,  public intoxication and petty theft.

 The nation’s newest homeless court — on the Hawaiian island of Oahu — has cleared a backlog of nearly 300 cases and has gotten housing for numerous people, including for a man who lived on the streets for nearly 30 years.

Consider this:

  • The homeless are hard to count for obvious reasons, but there are estimated to be between 550,000 and 600,000 in the U.S.
  • Sixteen of the 31 homeless courts are in California, where the nation’s first homeless court started in San Diego in 1989.
  • Of the 10 cities with the most homelessness, only three — Los Angeles, San Diego, and Boston — have homeless courts.
  • Twenty-five of the 31 homeless courts are in warm-weather cities.
  • Cold-weather cities with homeless courts include Denver, Salt Lake City, Boston, Vancouver, Wash., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Springfield, Mo.

Being arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor criminal crime doesn’t always lead to incarceration, but it can make it harder to get a job and an apartment. This is especially true of homeless people, and so having a homeless court intervene on their behalf can help them transition out of homelessness.

For more information about the nation’s homeless courts, click here, to NCSC’s homeless-courts pages.


The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.