Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell presented two bills Thursday to remove the homeless from sidewalks across the island, a shift from his previous position that islandwide bans would be unconstitutional.
Caldwell acknowledged that the bills are not modeled after any legislation that’s been proved successful and legal in other municipalities, and that they might face legal challenges if passed by the City Council.
“I know they’ll generate controversy, and I welcome that controversy and that debate because we want to get this right,” he said. He said he’s hopeful that during deliberations before the Council, various sides will come forward, express their views and help craft a bill that’s palatable and legal.
“I think we can find a middle ground where it can withstand challenge,” Caldwell said.
The two bills Caldwell offered up Thursday:
>> A “public lodging bill” that would make it illegal for a person to “lodge” on any Oahu sidewalk or other public area. To lodge, as defined under the bill, means “to occupy a place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” from an area if requested by a law enforcement officer to do so.
A law enforcement officer would not issue a citation or make an arrest until it is verified that “shelter space is available, including within a reasonable distance,” the officer issues a written request or order warning of a citation or arrest for failure to comply and the person refuses to relocate after at least an hour.
>> A “sidewalk obstruction bill” that would make it unlawful to obstruct city sidewalks with personal property anywhere on Oahu between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. Before issuing a citation or making an arrest, an officer would need to visually observe the obstruction and verify that there is less than 36 inches of space available on the sidewalk for the public to travel.
Caldwell announced the bills at a press conference on Halekauwila Street directly across from where a series of homeless tents were lined up on a portion of the sidewalk.
Over the past several years, Caldwell has proposed — and gotten passed — laws that bar sitting or lying down on city sidewalks and obstructing city sidewalks, but only in certain business neighborhoods under the rationale that the people and their belongings are impeding free flow of commerce.
Islandwide sidewalk bans proposed by Council members Ikaika Anderson and Ernie Martin failed to pass after attorneys from Corporation Counsel Donna Leong’s office warned they would face constitutional challenges.
Caldwell has gone so far as to veto sit-lie bills after city attorneys determined they may not be able to pass constitutional muster because the campers were not affecting businesses in some of the specified areas.
Both men said they’re pleased Caldwell has reversed course and are awaiting deliberations on the bills.
Caldwell reiterated his “compassionate disruption” plan for dealing with the homeless, pointing to a series of shelters and assistance centers, some developed with city money, designed to help the homeless. “We want them to get the services and shelter and get them back on their feet again,” he said. “And that’s the goal of these two bills. If they don’t move into shelter after being given the option, they can be arrested.”
There is available space in the urban Honolulu shelters where they would be taken, “but these folks opt not to go into shelter because there are rules and regulations,” he said.
City homeless services coordinator Marc Alexander has led an effort that’s taken 50 people from the Kakaako area to shelters in recent weeks, Caldwell said.
A Honolulu Star-Advertiser story last week detailed the effort, which included police, other government officials and social workers providing transportation to anyone wishing to go to a shelter, including several who were driven to the Waianae Civic Center from urban Honolulu.
That news drew an angry news release from Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents the area.
“The administration’s effort to solve homelessness in urban Honolulu by providing homeless individuals with a one-way ride to the Leeward Coast is unacceptable,” Pine said. “Transferring homeless individuals to an unfamiliar location upends any sense of stability a homeless individual may have.”
For years Waianae residents have complained about people who are dropped off, then choose to leave the shelter and end up being homeless at Leeward beaches.
But Caldwell spokesman Andrew Pereira said the people accepting rides in recent weeks chose the shelters they wanted to enter. “We don’t take anyone anyplace they don’t want to go,” he said.
Caldwell also announced Thursday that the city will post signs to remind the public about laws that bar them from lying down in bus shelters or at bus stops (from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m.) and from storing personal property on city sidewalks.