(WSVN) - A unique program is helping struggling South Floridians, including some who get into minor trouble with the law. But instead of locking them up, this is all about lifting them up. Here’s Karen Hensel with today’s 7 Spotlight.
Diana Thar has congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. She needed oxygen and the help of a scooter.
Today she met us inside her Fort Lauderdale apartment building. But not long ago, she was sleeping outside.
Diana Thar, helped by Community Court: “Well, we lived literally on the street, on the concrete, for many, many months.”
Diana and her sister Carol were evicted last year and ended up homeless.
Diana Thar: “The most scariest moment a woman could ever have in her life.”
Last October, Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Carabine found Diana sleeping on private property.
Diana Thar: “I could have been arrested by being on the property and charged with trespassing.”
But instead of handcuffing her, the deputy diverted Diana into a program that would change her life.
Diana Thar: “When they told me about it, I said, ‘I’ll do it.'”
“It” is Community Court. The specialized program launched in Fort Lauderdale in 2019, expanded to Pompano Beach last year, and is now set to start in Hollywood in January.
Despite the name, Community Court isn’t held in a courtroom, although it “does” have a judge.
Broward County Judge Florence Taylor Barner: “You know, there’s no fear, because there’s no judgment here.”
No judgment may seem like a surprising thing for Broward County Judge Florence Taylor Barner to say about her hearings.
Judge Florence Taylor Barner: “I know, but I am not here to judge anyone, what’s going on in their life. I just want to see what whatever I can do to help.”
And those in this room, care.
Judge Barner leads the proceedings.
Judge Florence Taylor Barner: “We do have a dentist that we can send you to as well.”
Nonprofits are there to help find people what they need, like housing, health care and jobs.
Judge Florence Taylor Barner: “The beauty of this court is putting all these folks in one room.”
Those eligible include nonviolent offenders charged with things like trespassing, disorderly conduct and public intoxication. The court also accepts walk-ins, meaning people not charged with anything, just needing something.
Judge Florence Taylor Barner: “I see children. I see full families come into community court.”
Those who follow the rules, and complete 10 hours of community service, get a graduation ceremony and their charges dismissed.
Diana had her trespassing charge dismissed.
Diana Thar: “They renewed my faith in people.”
People like Pompano Beach Social Services manager Cassandra Rhett.
Cassandra Rhett: “Diana has a degree in survival, a doctorate degree in survival.”
Diana Thar: “I probably wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for her. She was our guardian angel.”
Diana and Carol moved into their new apartment in May. She pays a portion of the rent from her Social Security. The rest is paid by a nonprofit.
Diana Thar: “I mean, that’s the first thing we did, was cried and said, ‘We made it.'”
Sadly, just weeks later, her sister passed away. Diana is grateful it was not on the street.
Diana Thar: “Yeah, we considered it our forever home.”
A reminder of the power of community — both in court and in life.
Karen Hensel, 7News.
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Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach Community Court
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