The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i is asking a federal judge to immediately stop the city from conducting homeless encampment sweeps in Kakaako.
A hearing on the matter is set for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
The ACLU sued the city last week, challenging two ordinances — arguing they are being improperly assessed, just as Department of Facility Maintenance workers began a scheduled series of block-by-block sweeps of lower Kakaako.
Meanwhile those who support the actions of the state and city to gradually clear Kakaako of the homeless campers think the strategy is working to send more people to shelters.
A request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was filed by ACLU attorneys Monday afternoon. It seeks to stop the city from “seizing and immediately destroying non-abandoned property belonging to homeless individuals in Honolulu.”
The motion alleges the city has improperly conducted its enforcement of the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance ordinances because it has failed to sufficiently warn people that their items would be taken and failed to give them adequate time to appeal the actions, the request states.
“Our understanding is that they have been immediately destroying property and they’ve indicated their intention to continue to destroy property immediately,” said Daniel Gluck, ACLU of Hawai‘i attorney. “The due process clause of the Constitution requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. The city can’t just say we’re going to come and seize your car and not give you a chance to say what the city is doing is illegal.”
City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the Caldwell administration would not comment on the lawsuit.
Earlier Monday afternoon, as a city crew was removing items left behind by homeless campers in the area bounded by Keawe, Ilalo and Coral streets, city Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said the city had issued few 24-hour notices of the impending removal of property because the area was being cleared using the Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance. That law, unlike the Stored Property Ordinance, does not typically require a 24-hour notice be given to the camper before items can be removed.
“(The) Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance allows for summary removal, as do some provisions of the Stored Property Ordinance when there’s public health and safety issues, or any kind of impediment to the orderly operation of a government facility,” he said. He said, however, that as a courtesy, city officials did post notices informing people that the enforcement actions were coming.
Sasamura’s crew removed materials from the area as uniformed deputy sheriffs and plainclothes Honolulu police officers helped direct traffic and keep the sidewalks clear of pedestrians.
A strong stench permeated the air along Ilalo Street, and there was little that appeared salvageable. “There’s a lot of debris,” Sasamura said. When the crew began at about 11 a.m., there were only two people milling around, and it was unclear whether they were former campers in the area or just there to rummage for salvageable items, he said.
A few moments later a woman who said she lives on nearby Ohe Street and was on her way to the Next Step Shelter to do laundry surveyed the area being cleared out. “It’s about time,” Linda Hillier said, explaining that her side of Kakaako was much cleaner.
She picked up a basket of hypodermic needles and put them among a bag of her belongings. After pointing out they could be exchanged for new needles, Hillier insisted that she wasn’t going to do that and was only picking them up so others wouldn’t take possession of them.
Broder Van Dyke said that on Sept. 8 city crews removed 1.56 tons of trash, approximately 8.4 cubic yards of which consisted of metals, and issued three removal notices for items that were stored. On Thursday city crews removed 3.17 tons of trash, approximately 2.5 cubic yards of which were metals, and three shopping carts, Broder Van Dyke said. No removal notices were issued.
But according to Gluck, “there are vastly greater numbers of people who are homeless than there are shelter beds available. We think that individuals who are homeless can validly argue they have nowhere else to go, and if they validly can argue they have nowhere else to go, then it’s unconstitutional for the city to punish them for being homeless and to essentially declare they cannot have any property of any kind.”
While some of the campers may have gone into shelters, Gluck said, others have been moving deeper into the core of the homeless encampment near the Children’s Discovery Center. “I don’t know what the city is going to do when it gets into the more densely populated area,” he said. “You have hundreds of people who are living there. You don’t have enough shelter space for everybody.”
But the overall strategy used by the city-state partnership to tackle homelessness in Kakaako in a gradual manner makes sense and has been effective, said Scott Morishige, the state’s coordinator for homeless services.
From Aug. 7 through Monday, 86 people from the Kakaako area have been placed into shelters or other types of housing, Morishige said. That’s about 29 percent of the 293 people who were counted during the first week of August, he said. That includes about 12 families, he said. They have gone primarily into space provided by the Institute for Human Services in Iwilei, the Next Step Shelter several blocks away from the encampment, and the Lighthouse Shelter in Waipahu.
“I think the 86 individuals is a reflection of the combined efforts of the state, city, service providers and other organizations,” Morishige said.
The methodical, go-slow approach ensures that areas are cleared only when shelter space is available, he said.
Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director, said that both the men’s and women’s shelters under her management have seen an uptick in people being housed.
The men’s shelter took in 16 people last week, up from the normal six to seven, Mitchell said. Meanwhile the women’s shelter has been seeing six or seven new clients per week recently, up from about two to three intakes a week, she said.
“They’re actually coming in from a lot of different places, including from Kakaako and Waikiki,” she said.
Some may also be coming from the Kapalama Canal area, where up to 100 people were staying along the banks of the waterway. Since the city began putting up fencing along Kohou and Kokea streets, the homeless who had been camping there have moved elsewhere.
Other IHS programs, not just shelter ones, have also been busier in recent weeks, Mitchell said. For instance, more than 45 people have called in to inquire about the upcoming Hale Mauliola transitional service center at Sand Island, which will be a partnership of the agency and the city.