Buncombe County District Attorney’s office announces unhoused diversion program

Press release from Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office

Today the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office announces a program aimed at addressing the needs of unhoused persons through referral to services offered by community partners outside of the criminal justice system.

“By offering a pathway for unhoused people accused of nonviolent crimes to be supported in their efforts to rebound from homelessnesss, this program acknowledges that involvement in the justice system is itself a barrier to obtaining stable housing,” said Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams. “This program has the potential to change lives and deliver a measurable positive impact in our neighborhoods including downtown.”

“It’s my hope that this effort will provide a cornerstone for broader community coordination to more effectively address the housing crisis,” Williams said.

This diversion track – a specialized sub-part of the existing Adult Misdemeanor Diversion program that has addressed thousands of unmet needs in our community – is focused on unhoused members of our community who have been charged with nonviolent misdemeanors. People charged with violent crime do not qualify for the program. Individuals who enroll but do not comply with the program will return to court for traditional prosecution.

This diversion program provides a person-centered approach in identifying unmet needs of our unhoused community and resolving pending nonviolent criminal matters that would otherwise create barriers to qualifying for stable housing.

The Unhoused Diversion Program areas of focus include:

  • Provision of wraparound case management to connect current services and referrals for new services (and avoid duplication of services);
  • Removal of barriers to safe and stable housing by reducing the number of pending nonviolent misdemeanor charges for unhoused individuals;
  • Providing support and appropriate referrals for unmet needs;
  • Increased cross-system collaboration between the justice system, law enforcement, and community agencies;
  • Providing vocational rehab support for unhoused individuals to reduce future criminal activity and its impacts on the community and the person.

“This program recognizes that mental health and addiction are rarely effectively addressed through our criminal system, yet mental health and addiction are often identified as factors contributing to activities and behaviors that lead to involvement in our criminal justice system–causing harm to communities and individuals,” Williams said.

“I am in full support of efforts to move us away from criminalizing those bearing the brunt of our housing crisis,” Mark Siler of CareNet Counseling, an advocate for our unhoused residents, said after discussing the program with Williams. “Obviously, the jail is not designed to address the underlying reality of community members who have no access to housing. I look forward to being an active supporter of this effort.”

“It’s my hope that this effort will provide a cornerstone for broader community coordination to more effectively address the housing crisis,” Williams said.

Williams plans for program information to be distributed in waterproof kits. To enable access to the Buncombe County Justice Resource Center, the program will provide bus tickets to enrolled participants. Additional services will provide participants with computer access so that they may access email, conduct job search correspondence, and print program-related documents and resumés.

The District Attorney’s Office began making referrals to the program on February 1, 2022.

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