The state Attorney General’s office told state Rep. Gene Ward that a map he published in November of suspected homeless encampments and homeless activity in his East Honolulu district passes legal muster and is constitutional.
“The stated purpose of the map is for the protection of the public, so that families with children will know to avoid such areas,” Deputy Attorney General Diane K. Taira wrote in a letter to Ward on Monday. “We have researched the potential issues involved and have found nothing to indicate that the map you published runs afoul of either the Constitution or present law or Hawai’i case law.”
THE map that Ward published in his monthly newsletter identifies 11 suspected homeless hot spots from Sandy Beach to Hahaione.
It describes a man near the China Wall surf spot off Koko Kai Beach Park as a meth addict “Whose Mother Has Restraining Order Against Him,” and describes a “Mentally Ill Homeless Man (who) Frequently Screams at People” at Hawaii Kai Towne Center.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Center on Homeless &Poverty told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Ward’s map could be unconstitutional. The National Law Center on Homeless &Poverty also said it was concerned that Ward had violated federal laws that bar the release of medical information.
But Taira wrote in her letter to Ward that “the descriptions used on the map do not contain names, photographs, or specific descriptions of homeless individuals; (2) the map only appears to report factual incidents and events; and (3) the map refrains from publishing any confidential personal information, such as medical records.”
WARD, (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai), on Wednesday called the Attorney General’s opinion “a win-win. I’m happy with it.”
He plans to reproduce the map if the information changes. In the meantime, Ward said, it will help social service outreach workers continue their efforts in East Honolulu to encourage homeless people to enter shelters or get help with their personal problems.
Ward said the initial stories in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about his map “made it sound as if we have no compassion in East Honolulu.”
Ward reiterated his previous overseas work as a Peace Corps volunteer, and said, “I know what poverty is and I know what sickness is.”
He plans to visit homeless encampments in his district for the annual, national Point in Time Count of homeless people and is encouraging his 15,000 constituents to join him the week of Jan. 23 to interact with homeless people along with social service outreach workers.
“We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and walk the talk,” Ward said.
With the Attorney General’s opinion, Ward now plans to reproduce the map if locations of homeless activity change and require an update.
Future maps, Ward said, will indicate whether “we have or have not made progress.”
“Ideally,” he added, future maps will show progress reducing the estimated 20 homeless people in East Honolulu and “will have zeroes” where homeless people currently live.