Steve Binder

Ashoka Fellow
La Jolla, California, United States
Fellow Since 2005


This profile was prepared when Steve Binder was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Through the Homeless Court Program (HCP) Steve Binder is making the criminal justice system accessible to the homeless and changing the system’s response to them from a punitive one to one that is solutions oriented. Steve’s vision is for officers of the court to take a proactive, collaborative role in helping people overcome the problems that led them to become homeless. Steve saw that by joining forces with citizen sector organizations, judges could help solve the root causes of homelessness, prosecutors and district attorneys could focus on positive outcomes, and public defenders could help their clients move forward to achieve self-reliance. His insight is to make the criminal justice system an ally to the individual who is homeless and a partner to the organizations that support their rehabilitation. He designed the Homeless Court Program to encourage homeless individuals to enroll in and take full advantage of the health, education, and social services offered in their community.

As a public defender, Steve realized that homeless individuals are caught in a vicious circle: with nowhere to go for food, shelter and comfort, they sleep on the streets and commit various offenses that are viewed as a public nuisance. They receive numerous citations for public nuisance offenses, “crimes,” which carry the threat of custody. Steve’s innovation with the HCP is for participation in community-based treatment or services to replace traditional sanctions such as fines, public work service, and custody. The HCP focus is to remove the traditional court sanctions that punish the symptoms of homelessness with program activities that provide a homeless person opportunities to achieve employability and economic independence. He created a way for the courts, the legal system, and community-based organizations to work together to support the aspirations and rehabilitation of homeless individuals.

Steve’s idea, the Homeless Court Program, brings the court to the homeless shelter, removes the threat of incarceration for misdemeanor offenses, and engages case workers and other service providers as advocates for their clients. Because all Homeless Court Program clients actively participate in education, job-training, chemical dependency, and other programs, the program positions community-based organizations as strategic partners in the homeless person’s return to full economic citizenship. The courts, prosecutors, and public defenders reinforce the role of the social service system in helping the person overcome the underlying causes of their homelessness.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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