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Monday, July 28, 2014         

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Shelter can restrict where moms breast-feed, group says

By Associated Press

POSTED:



A Honolulu homeless shelter is legally allowed to require a resident to nurse while covered or in a private room, according to a national breast-feeding advocacy group that has researched the issue.

Karen Penley called the hotline for Best for Babes Foundation after employees at the Institute for Human Services shelter told her she couldn't breast-feed out in the open. Penley, 27, who has been living at the shelter with her two children for about three weeks, said her 9-month-old son, Nakana, doesn't tolerate being under a nursing cover, and she prefers not to nurse in a cramped and hot room.

Penley said she felt the shelter was violating her right to breast-feed in a way that's comfortable for her baby. Connie Mitchell, executive director of the private nonprofit social services agency and shelter, said the request was made out of consideration for residents who complained.

The foundation's director of activism, Michelle Hickman of Houston, said Thursday that the organization has researched the legal interpretation of Hawaii's public-accommodations law. While the law allows mothers to breast-feed in any way they want in any place that's considered a public accommodation such as a store or park, homeless shelters are considered residential areas.

"Not anyone can walk into the shelter and stay there," Hickman said, explaining why the shelter can't be considered a privately owned place of public accommodation.

But William Hoshijo, executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, said it's not quite that clear.

"There's a question of whether a shelter is a public accommodation, housing or both," he said.

Hickman said this issue has come up in other parts of the country.

"Governments aren't allowed to tell you what you can or cannot do inside your home unless it's something like child abuse," Hickman said. "Therefore, because the shelter is considered a residential area, they would fall under the legal loophole, or exception ... for being able to legally have a policy in place requiring a mother to cover up."

Even though the shelter doesn't have a formal policy on breast-feeding, it's still legal to put restrictions on how residents nurse, Hickman said.

She said the foundation can help the shelter formulate a policy that works for all residents -- an offer Mitchell said she plans to accept. There have been nursing mothers at the shelter before, but this is the first time breast-feeding has been an issue, Mitchell said.

While it's a relief to know the shelter is within its rights, Mitchell said, officials won't change a previous decision not to take any action against Penley if she doesn't abide by their request.

"Regardless of what rights we have at the shelter, we respect any woman's rights to breast-feed," Mitchell said. "We really believe in breast-feeding, and I do, as a nurse, and I want to support that."

Penley, who now nurses in a private room when it's available, said she's disappointed to learn how the breast-feeding law applies to the shelter.

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press






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HaoleGuy wrote:
I am a strong advocate for woman having the right to breast feed in public, however in this unique setting asking the mother to do so in a private room or a light cover is not out of bounds. She and her family are being provided housing free of charge by the taxpayers, and these shelters have rules for a reason. I think her indignation is misplaced and trivializes moms who are truly discriminated against when feeding in public.
on July 4,2014 | 05:59AM
mrluke wrote:
Seems like just another single mom with a couple of kids, who expects to be granted special privileges.
on July 4,2014 | 08:13AM
kiragirl wrote:
Seems she is also irresponsible because of her predicament. Yet she feels entitled to complain.
on July 4,2014 | 08:45AM
Bdpapa wrote:
I was looking for that word "entitled". Thanks!
on July 4,2014 | 09:21AM
soundofreason wrote:
We can already see the results of HER track record on making judgments/decisions. Best she listen to others on such matters.
on July 4,2014 | 09:33AM
cojef wrote:
Another entitlement fre-k who insist on her right as a mother to breast her infant in public. Give her credit for flaunting her single-parent activism with a flair.
on July 4,2014 | 11:12AM
808noelani wrote:
Nothing wrong with breast feeding but like they say there is a time and place for everything. Seems like she is the type that wouldn't mind doing things out in the open without privacy or regard for others like urinating, defecating, having sex, picking her nose, taking a shower, and even changing her baby's diaper in a restaurant next to people who are eating.
on July 4,2014 | 12:15PM
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