Sitting and lying down on state lands in Hawaii could become illegal under a proposal in the state Legislature, and homelessness experts say they don’t know of any other state with such a ban.
The bill seeks to align Hawaii’s policies with a sit-lie ban enacted by Honolulu in 2014, said state Rep. Isaac Choy, a Democrat. That city ban, which focused primarily on sidewalks, was first enacted in Waikiki and then was expanded to other parts of Oahu.
But when the city enforced its ban, homeless people often just moved to nearby state land, because city crews typically wouldn’t clear state-owned properties, Choy said.
“They cross this imaginary line, and they go, ‘Oh, this is state property,’” Choy said.
Under the bill when crews clear homeless encampments, “it’s going to be seamless,” Choy added. “They can’t jump over this imaginary line and say, ‘Hey, I’m on the state land now.’”
The bill, HB 1525, also would ban camping on state property. It makes some exceptions, including people taking part in permitted festivals, children or babies in strollers, and those engaging in authorized activities that have proper permits.
Choy sought to change that after business owners in his district complained about vandalism which they blamed on homeless people who were living on state land under a freeway.
Critics say such bans criminalize homelessness, and make it harder for people who are extremely poor to get back on their feet.
“We don’t know of anything like this in any other state, certainly not any other state laws that specifically target sitting and lying down in public places,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “This seems like one further, very discouraging effort in the state of Hawaii to really take a very counter-productive approach to address the homelessness crisis in the state.”
The Legislature is also considering a variety of proposals that would help homeless people through outreach programs, rental payment assistance and affordable housing development. The state is also working on a new shelter that’s being built adjacent to what was one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
But allowing homeless people to live on sidewalks or public properties isn’t fair to the public at large, Choy said.
“I’m here to help the homeless. I’m not here to accommodate the homeless,” Choy said. “If it’s something that an ordinary citizen cannot do, then nobody should do it. I want to give the homeless services. I believe in shelters and safe zones, but you shouldn’t be granted special privileges that an ordinary person cannot do.”