Key Honolulu City Council members and Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration are closer to agreement on two bills that would make it illegal for the homeless to obstruct or “lodge” on Oahu’s sidewalks.
After several hours of deliberation on Wednesday, members of the Council’s Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee are expected today to approve the two measures first proposed by Caldwell. If approved, they would go to the full Council for the second of three required votes.
Committee Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga said she wanted the bills delayed because numerous changes had been made to both and she wanted committee members to see “clean” versions of what they are being asked to vote on.
The mayor previously rejected islandwide sit-lie proposals from Council members, citing constitutional issues. After Caldwell introduced the two new bills this summer, they were held up in committee last month when Council members questioned how they were different from the proposals they previously had proposed.
The American Civil Liberties Union and homeless advocates questioned the bills while Waikiki interests testified in favor of them.
Bill 51 makes it illegal for anyone to obstruct or impede a sidewalk in a way that impedes the free flow of traffic anywhere on Oahu between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. It would apply to those seeking to use city sidewalks for commercial purposes without permission, city Corporation Counsel Donna Leong told the committee.
Bill 52 is aimed directly at the homeless, and makes it illegal to lodge, or “to occupy a place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” sidewalks or other public places. It also makes it incumbent on the person issuing the citation to verify there is shelter space within a reasonable distance and to offer to take the person being cited to the shelter. The person to be cited also must refuse to vacate the area. The goal is get people off the streets and into shelter or housing, Leong said.
Leong and other city attorneys have emphasized that neither bill is related to the so-called sit-lie laws that were adopted for Waikiki and other regions of the island. Those require that individuals being cited must be disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic in ways that would impede commercial activity.
Under the latest versions of both bills, offered by Fukunaga, the city’s Office of Housing and Department of Community Services must submit a report to the Council outlining the administration’s plans “to expedite deployment of homeless services and housing solutions in each of the nine City Council districts.”
David Mulinix of the group Our Revolution Hawaii said the sit-lie bills have had little impact on homelessness. “We have the highest housing costs in the country and the lowest pay,” he told the committee. “To spend a lot of time and resources on these bills that just chase the homeless from one part of the island to another is really wasting everyone’s time.”
Most homeless don’t have the financial resources to pay fines so those cited will end up spending time in jail, he said.
Tracy Martin, who was homeless in Kakaako with his wife and young daughter for more than three years, said he and other homeless were forced onto the streets by economic circumstances, not because they wanted to be there.
What people deem as obstructions are “everything with us that we hold dear that came with us too,” Martin said. “It’s not that we disrupt the sidewalks because we want to.” His family is now renting a home but is still living paycheck to paycheck and could easily become homeless again, he said.
Contrary to what the bills’ supporters say, “shelter space is still insufficient and doesn’t necessarily lead to permanent housing,” Mateo Caballero, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, Hawaii branch, said. “Mental health and substance abuse options are also insufficient and disrupted by the constant sweeps of the city.”
But Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, said the bills are aimed at protecting the public’s right to use sidewalks. “They’re not meant to be for habitation or commercial purposes,” he said. “They’re meant for people to traverse from one area to another.”