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Report faults Honolulu for criminalizing homelessness

  • DENNIS ODA/ SEPT. 22, 2015

    City crews cleared out tents, personal items and debris left over and abandoned from the homeless encampment near the UH Medical School in Kakaako after a homeless sweep on Sept. 22, 2015.

Cities across the country are enacting more bans on living in vehicles, camping in public and panhandling, despite federal efforts to discourage such laws amid a shortage of affordable housing, a new report said.

Denver, which ordered about 150 homeless people living on sidewalks to clear out their belongings today, was among four cities criticized for policies criminalizing homelessness in a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an advocacy group aiming to prevent people from losing their homes.

The other cities listed in its “hall of shame” are in Honolulu, Dallas and Puyallup, Wash.

People in Denver chanted, “No handcuffs. Give us homes,” as they packed up their belongings when police arrived. As they piled shopping carts high, a jumble of items cluttered the area: a banana, a paperback copy of Shakespeare and a pair of construction boots.

Many cities with increasing home prices have been struggling with homelessness, including Denver and Honolulu, which were reprimanded for an anti-camping law and ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, respectfully.

“These laws are unconstitutional and bad public policy,” Maria Foscarinis, the center’s executive director, said in a phone call with reporters. “Homelessness remains a national crisis across the country. It’s fueled by the growing lack of affordable housing and the shrinking safety net.”

The report, which was based on a review of policies enacted by 187 cities over a decade, said bans on living in vehicles increased by 143 percent. Those laws can be particularly devastating because they often lead to vehicle impoundment, and people can lose all of their belongings, disrupting their ability to work or attend school, Foscarinis said.

In Denver, authorities had given notice that homeless people had to move their things. While some packed up and left, others resisted, so the city gave them more time, said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the human services department. She said the city wants to help them go to shelters and get other services.

Bennie Henley, an Army veteran who moved to Denver two weeks ago from Kansas to get treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital, said he prefers sleeping on an advertising banner rolled out on the sidewalk rather than in a shelter. He showed a rash on his arm that he thinks came from bedbugs in a shelter.

“I don’t like being crowded up like that,” said Henley, sitting on a swivel office chair on the sidewalk and leaning on a cane.

The report said Denver forces thousands of people to dismantle camps despite a waiting list for subsidized housing.

City spokeswoman Amber Miller called the report’s findings inaccurate, saying the center relied on local advocacy groups with incorrect information. She said Denver’s priority is helping people find assistance.

“We have increased outreach workers and paired them with police patrols, expanded day and night shelter, created 250 units of permanent supportive housing and launched a day work program,” Miller said in a statement.

Honolulu was criticized for what the report called aggressive enforcement of its sit-lie ban. The group said the city has issued more than 16,000 warnings to people violating the ban since it was enacted in Waikiki in 2014.

But Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the report fails to mention that since the sit-lie law took effect in September of 2014, officers have issued 21,630 warnings and made only 27 arrests after a public education and warning period.

He also said over the last two years Honolulu has helped house more than 1,000 people who were experiencing homelessness, including over 860 veterans.

The report also targeted Dallas and Puyallup. Dallas was criticized for issuing thousands of citations for sleeping in public, and Puyallup, for making it illegal to camp, panhandle or sit and lie down in parts of the city, despite lacking adequate space in an emergency shelter.

Officials from those two cities didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report called several such policies unconstitutional. The group said panhandling is protected by free-speech rights and preventing sleeping in public could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

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  • The bad policy comes in this democrat run state, although I will say that now allowing panhandling, or obstructing the sidewalks in Waikiki is not a penalty against homelessness.

    It’s about allowing the rest of the public to have access to things they should have access to like walking down the street on the sidewalk.

      • Subhuman behavior should be nipped in the bud. Any tent on public property should be immediately destroyed and their owners put in enclosed prison camps with work doled out for them . It is imbecile to think “helping” the homeless will do any good other than attracting more subhuman behavior. Even if we build 100000 apartments they will soon be overflowing with more substandard-humans.

        • In summary you are correct. If it is comfortable to be homeless then yes, there will be more homeless and more that will remain so.

  • The National Law Center on Homelessness says Honolulu is in the Hall of Shame. Well, what do they suggest we do to allow citizens to safely walk on sidewalks, play in our parks, and have cleanliness in public places? Good grief!

    • My thoughts exactly. Offer possible solutions instead of telling us we in the hall of shame. Show us what success looks like. Hope we didn’t have to pay for that study. Auwe!

    • IRT KiraGirl, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s mission is “To ending and preventing homelessness” since 1989, and since homelessness an poverty has exploded. The have the nerve to say Honolulu is in the Hall of Shame. The Organization is promoting homelessness and poverty. Is this another progressive liberal organization? Yep, sure is.

    • These people that sit in ivory towers should get their fortunate butts over here and see the situation in a state where tourism is our primary industry. This is an island with no “Indian Reservations” to send the homeless. We wound up getting lost outside of Vegas and I can tell you we did not see a blade of grass and that Reservation looked like the moon.

  • “The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty” should develop a solution to the “homeless and poverty” problem instead of criticizing cities for doing what is needed to prevent the cities from becoming dumps.

    • Either we help the homeless get off the street and into housing, or we line them all up against a wall and shoot them. And if you’ve lost your mind, and are mentally ill, we gotta come take you away and house you in a mental facility.

      • Not a bad idea. Its time has come. Someone’s desire to drink, do drugs, and live outside of social norms should not be made everyone else’s problem. I also think schizophrenics do not belong wandering the streets screaming at imaginary voices. There is such a thing as people being too sick to realize they need help. For those who are beyond help, I think it is extremely cruel to keep them alive.

        As for homelessness being criminalized, don’t think so. I consider it criminalized when the penalty is in the form of summary execution, not a citation that will probably not be paid.

      • The City and State are working to “help the homeless get off the street and into housing,”. There are shelters available today with open beds and the “citations” are a means of pushing the homeless into the shelters. There is no possible way any city can afford to build free housing for the homeless, and the big question is why should taxpayers have to absorb such costs.

    • Ok so what is your proposal on what to do? Please don’t come back with general statements like we have to help them. Help them how? We can’t just do nothing and let the homeless do whatever they want.

      • Exactly, they only issued citations. hahahahahaha

        Cop… “Identification please…”
        Bum… “emmm, I don’t have any ID on me, I’m homeless”
        Cop… “$@$% it…ok, your name please”
        Bum… “emmm, Jesus Caldwell.”
        Cop… “Your name is Jesus?”
        Bum… “emmm yeah, sure, I do Gods work”
        Cop… “@#$%% ok, here’s your @#$%% citation.”

        Case closed.

    • I think the comprehension is there-is what is lacking is the answer to the problems. Unfortunately, you have done nothing to move the process along. By merely reiterating the thoughts of the writer, you have done nothing but wasted our time.

  • It has to be when the first tent or structure is seen, action is taken to remove it and to deal with the persons involved. When you let it go the way the state and city have, you end up with an unmanageable problem with no clear solution. It must be made clear that it will not be tolerated and they are breaking the law so others do not see it as a way of life, free of responsibility with people actually advocating for them for rights they do not have to begin with. If you let it grow this is what you end up with.

    • You got the point. Once you let it go lawlessness grows like a cancer and you stand pushed against the wall. Just like 15 million illegal immigrants who should be loaded on trucks and dumped beyond the borders.

  • Okay. I don’t like the homeless obstructing my sidewalks. I don’t like them panhandling me. I don’t like fæces in the water in which I swim. (I have to say though, that when I’ve gone out diving from Kewalo, they’ve been very polite and once on a night dive, a guy said “I made sure that nobody touched your car.”) There is a Constitution. It’s not a Democratic nor a Republican Constitution because parties didn’t exist when it was drafted. City, County, and State officials must be very careful when enacting statutes that effect classes of people. If you can enact legislation that follows Constitutional guidelines, then that’s great. If you enact knee-jerk legislation that doesn’t, then the C&C and thus the taxpaying citizens become liable for the mistakes.

  • Yeah, better that we respect their rights and that my 96 year old Grandma has to stand up at the bus stop after working and paying taxes her whole life because we have allowed the vagrants to take the bus stops over as their own. Where is my Grandma’s rights? Better I go to work and pay ridiculous amount of money in taxes and healthcare and keep myself healthy while they smoke crack and drink bug gulps. This is the Hawaii and America of today. You’re welcome.

    • No, I agree with your concerns but any legislation must be enforceable. Cities all over the nation have enacted unenforceable legislation and have had it blow up in their faces and thus making it more difficult to do stuff that is effective. I would be ok with a law to make homelessness illegal if there were an effective way to make such a law legal. For example, an alternative to homelessness that would withstand legal tests.

        • He’s babbling again. After 30 years of doing nothing in government he continues the tradition of babbling and offers no solutions while sucking on the teat of the public.

      • We already have laws that are fully enforceable, a requirement for camping permits in specific parks being just one of them. The article might have been more to the point had it highlighted that for the homeless, all too often one minor infraction leads to another and yet another, quickly spiraling out of control. Contempt citations for failing to show up at court to answer charges is extremely common. Some cities have resorted to mobile courtrooms more accessible to the homeless in an effort to wipe slates clean thereby making some of the homeless more employable.

      • The laws had been written for responsible humans, now we have to deal with avalanches of riffraff with entitlements. The Homeless should be investigated and made into two groups: Those who are innocent and those who caused it themselves.The latter ones should be stamped second class citizens without full rights so they can be dealt with more forcefully instead of letting them throw poop into our faces.

      • Nanakulibug I know where you are coming from. Your people are overbreeding and cannot or will not adjust to civilized live and despise our laws. Meanwhile they get fatter due to entitlement. To them laying around and producing more offspring is a lazy bums dream. Let the dumb taxpayers pay for us is their motto.

  • Denver, Dallas and Puyallup, Washington, also were criticized for criminalizing policies.
    No wonder we have more homeless than ever. They are all coming from these other states. As a taxpayer, if every taxpayer would pay for one homeless person to go back to their state of origin, here in Hawaii we would only have our own to care for. I vote for that.

    • Interestingly, one of the only states that has had some success with this issue has been Utah. (When one has a year round climate that allows people to live outside, it’s hard to compare with places like North Dakota.) It is interesting though that almost every state is trying to deal with this problem. What systemic changes can be made given that we do not have the resources to lock up every homeless person. Not to mention lock them up and take care of their children at at the same time. My point is that complex problems do not have simple solutions.

      • The solution is simple. Stop aid for those that refuse to go to shelters. Stop Housing First program. Let’s make the choice easy and stop enabling their poor life choices. The ones that want help are the ones in the shelters. Let’s help these individuals and families FIRST and FOREMOST. Give shelter to those trying to turn their lives around in a shelter and not to some random mainland drug addict who has no interest in getting clean.

  • I hope they inform all the homeless people around the nation that Hawaii is #1 on the Hall of Shame List. That way they know it is a bad place for them to come and they should go to the places on the bottom of the HSL.

    • They are a non-profit out of Washington DC since 1989……

      what will Trump do?……time will tell…..I will light a candle at Church today, then go pickup roadside litter along Kam Hwy today…..lucky we live Hawaii……I’ve seen with my own eyes the Homeless in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City and it is sad.

  • i’m sure that this group, the “National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty”, were to donate a significant amount of money to our fair city, we would/could use the funding to address and mitigate the problem. everyone knows that any solution to the problem is a very expensive proposition. i submit that this advocacy group, NLCHP, would do well to put up a significant sum of money to replace the rhetoric of criticism. DO! DON’T TALK! ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN MERE WORDS. talk is cheap!

  • what do you expect people–Democrat State & City–of course everything is liberal. Das what you get Hawaii–you have to eat this BS from the people leaching off your hard earned lower than national average dollars that include higher than national average taxes and cost of living. Too stupid to do anything else is the proper moniker to describe locals people that continue to support and vote in candidates / politicians that have a SPEND and TAX mentality. Your income is at their mercy.
    And guess what –the politicians don’t care about the homeless and pan-handling problems because they are not in the places and neighborhoods where the established politicians live–wait till the homeless and pan-handlers start infiltrating East Oahu – Manoa – Mililani–den you are going to see some action—and wait till Kakaako & Ward luxury condo district is built up and right across the street are people taking a dump and pee-ing in plain view and stinking up the place daily–wonderful. Den we going see some action–maybe just to push them back to DT & Kalihi areas–no solution just hiding the problems

  • I partially agree with this report as we have not done enough to beef up services for the mentally ill. We need to beef up the State Hospital staff with qualified personnel. However, when you have available bed space for the homeless and they don’t take it because there’s “too many rules” or there are too many homeless who don’t want to get out of their situation and prefer the free services they can get, then I have issues with that segment of the homeless. People who are homeless and want to get out of their situation are using available services.

  • The moment the first tent appeared on public city property and was left standing was the beginning of a catastrophe most people do not yet grasp. Now there may be 500 tents illegally on sidewalks and such. Monkey see monkey do! Soon there will be 10000 and your neighborhood is next! Wake up people it is 5 minutes before 12! We need a revolution against the inept government here.

  • This is like saying that Honolulu is criminalizing “nakedness.” It’s a matter of where you chose to do it.

    It’s perfectly legal to be homeless in a homeless shelter, but it’s not legal to decide you want to live in Ala Moana Park.

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