This summer, I was placed at Street Democracy. The president and lead attorney, Jayesh Patel, advocates for rehabilitative sentencing instead of paying hundreds of dollars in traffic fines that only contribute to one’s homelessness problem. This alternative sentence may include getting counseling or taking anger management classes, regularly volunteering in their community, or enrolling themselves in various types of job training.
This innovative way to better society and prevent homelessness from the front end is the new view I have for social entrepreneurship. After hearing many success stories and incredible statistics, I added “solving societal problems at the root” to my social entrepreneurship definition. Although the past few cases Jayesh and Street Democracy has taken on have occurred after their clients have gathered thousands of dollars in traffic fines and court fees, they have just started a pilot program at Hamtramck 31st District Court.
My partner, Aaron DePass, and I had the opportunity to accompany Jayesh and his partner, Charles Hobbs, to their first day working in the Hamtramck courts for this initiative. We conducted the preliminary interviews and noted their income levels and housing situations to see if they may be eligible for the rehabilitation program. The case was then handed over to Jayesh, where he made the decision if they fit the program’s client profile. There was one man who had a low paying jobs, had a few personal issues he was dealing with, regularly volunteered in his community. He watched over the kids’ park to make sure they were safe, as the park was not in the best area.
The mission of the program Jayesh is implementing would show the judges that instead of this man paying hundreds of dollars in fines and making his living situation worse, he would sign up for counseling, enroll in job training to earn a higher wage, and continue to regularly volunteer in his community. This positive alternative will allow him to be his better self in the community. It was incredible and heartwarming to witness this and see how grateful and excited for this possibility to become a reality.
Post 6-months of graduation from the Street Democracy program, 97 percent of graduates had stable housing, 91 percent had stable income, 90 percent had no contact with the criminal justice system, and 100 percent had no new misdemeanor or felony charges.
In addition to helping these people, Jayesh estimates the program has saved taxpayers $75,000 - $150,000 by from reduced crime rates and combining cases into single settlements. This is just in the five years Street Democracy Outreach Court has been running.
As I think of this new definition of social entrepreneurship for me, I try to put together why I had a business oriented view of it in the first place. Maybe I was biased because I think strategically in a business way, and never thought you could attack social problems from a legal direction.
Pictured below: Jayesh Patel, president and lead attorney. Always keeping the work place fun and interesting!