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Honolulu City Council passes bills aimed at stopping homeless campers from blocking sidewalks

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DENNIS ODA / July 19

The Honolulu City Council today approved two bills banning obstructing or lodging on Oahu sidewalks. Here, homeless campers blocked the sidewalk on Pohukaina Street near Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako in July.

Bills aimed at banning people from obstructing or lodging on Oahu sidewalks won final approval from the Honolulu City Council today.

The bills include language requiring the city administration to first submit a report, or reports, to the Council on the status of its initiatives to combat homelessness. Mayor Kirk Caldwell had strenuously opposed including that language in the bills.

The vote was 6-3, with members Ikaika Anderson, Brandon Elefante and Joey Manahan voting “no.”

Caldwell initiated both bills, calling them additional tools for the city in its quest to reduce homelessness on city sidewalks. It’s the first time his administration has supported sidewalk enforcement bills that apply islandwide. Previously, the administration has argued that its sit-lie, stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances could not be applied islandwide due to constitutional issues.

Caldwell, at a press conference Monday, indicated that while he wouldn’t be happy if the bills passed with the additional language, he would likely sign them.

Bill 51 would make it illegal between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to “create, cause or maintain” an obstruction on an Oahu public sidewalk if it “interferes, impedes and/or prevents” pedestrians from moving through freely. Administration officials say the measure is not simply aimed at the homeless, but anyone who obstructs the sidewalk — including, for instance, the company that recently left commercial scooters on sidewalks without city approval. Violators could be subject to fines of up to $100.

Bill 52 would make it a petty misdemeanor to “lodge” on a sidewalk or other public space. It defines “to lodge” as “to occupy place temporarily; to sleep; to come to rest and refuse to vacate” a public place. The bill states specifically that a police officer issuing a citation must first verify there is shelter space within a reasonable distance and to offer to take the person being cited to the shelter.

Both bills have drawn opposition from homeless advocates who argue that they are ineffective in reducing homelessness on the island and that they unfairly make it criminal to be homeless.

The ACLU Hawaii chapter, among others, have also questioned if the bills will pass legal muster following a recent federal appeals court opinion that struck down a law in Boise, Idaho.

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