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Committee OKs bills to clear homeless from city sidewalks

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Homeless at Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako.

A City Council committee Thursday approved two bills that would make it illegal for people to obstruct or lodge on city sidewalks.

The bills, both sponsored by Mayor Kirk Caldwell, now move on to the full Council for the second of three readings.

>> Bill 51 makes it illegal for anyone to obstruct or impede a sidewalk in a way that impedes the free flow of traffic anywhere on Oahu between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. It would also apply to those seeking to use city sidewalks for commercial purposes without permission.

>> Bill 52 makes it illegal to lodge, or “to occupy a place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” sidewalks or other public places. It also makes it incumbent on the person issuing the citation to verify there is shelter space within a reasonable distance and to offer to take the person being cited to the shelter. The person to be cited also must refuse to vacate the area.

But even if the bills receive final approval in the coming months, it could be a while before they go into effect. Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Council’s Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustain­- ability Committee, inserted a clause into both bills to require that before enforcement can begin the administration must first submit, to the Council, an action plan to combat homelessness in each of the nine Council districts, and have the plan approved.

She pointed out that the Council had already adopted Resolution 18-158 earlier this month, requesting that the Caldwell administration submit such a report within the next two months.

“The long-term commitment of the Council has always been to tackle homelessness as an islandwide problem, and to incorporate the specific needs and concerns in specific Council districts is sort of the starting point,” Fukunaga said after the meeting.

The bills are not to be confused with the sit-lie bans in place in Waikiki and other business districts, city officials said. To pass constitutional muster, those can be applied only if individuals are specifically impeding the free flow of commerce, city attorneys said.

Councilman Brandon Elefante, who voted against sit-lie legislation, voted against the sidewalk bills Thursday. He said there needs to be more effort by the city to help the homeless transition into housing.

Joining Fukunaga in support of the measures were Council members Joey Manahan, Ann Kobayashi and Trevor Ozawa.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and Our Revolution Hawaii had testified against the bills Wednesday, saying that criminalizing homelessness makes it worse for those on the streets and does not benefit the greater community.

The Waikiki Improvement Association testified in support of the bills, arguing that the issue was ensuring that sidewalks and other public areas are available to all people.

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