The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i and a host of other homeless advocates again are asking the city to stop clearing the homeless off Oahu sidewalks during the holiday season and again are being rebuffed by officials who insist that Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption” policy is best for the public and those being removed.
The advocates said the city’s policy is counterproductive, cruel and unconstitutional.
The email was issued to the media Friday by the ACLU but listed Lt. Gov. Josh Green and about a dozen other prominent individuals as well as a diverse set of groups from the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i to the NAACP Honolulu chapter and Unite Here Local 5, the hotel employees union. Green and Caldwell are potential 2022 gubernatorial candidates.
“The City and County of Honolulu is conducting sweeps of our houseless neighbors over the holidays — again,” the statement said. “This despite the fact that it doesn’t work … this despite the fact that the city has admitted ‘of course we know that there aren’t enough shelter beds for all 2,400 unsheltered persons at one time.’”
The email referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month to decline to hear a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that struck down a Boise, Idaho, law that regulates camping and sleeping in public places.
“We want to get people into shelter,” the email said. “But as we said last year when the city swept the houseless population over the holidays, you don’t achieve that goal through unconstitutional sweeps in the middle of the night when shelters and services are limited. There is nothing compassionate about disrupting the lives of people who are already struggling to make ends meet in one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Government resources should be focused on building homes, not criminalizing poverty. If this is the best the City can do, its best is not good enough.”
Information provided by city officials indicated enforcement of the city Stored Property Ordinance and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance took place Tuesday in a series of urban Honolulu neighborhoods that included Kapahulu, Kapiolani and Moiliili.
City spokesman Andrew Pereira said the actions conducted by the Department of Facility Maintenance are in response to public complaints. “Violators are given 24 hours to move their belongings from public areas, and a half-hour to retrieve belongings when crews arrive,” Pereira said.
The city does not typically track how many people are removed when the actions occur.
Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, said that on the one hand, “we want to make sure that our public spaces are open to the entire community.” That’s especially true during the holiday when people are on vacation and there’s a greater demand on city amenities such as its sidewalks and parks, he said.
“At the same time, our primary concern is the health and safety of all people including those who are experiencing homelessness, so when we do these enforcement operations, it’s also an opportunity to offer people a safe place of refuge whether that’s shelter or our new HONU program — homeless outreach and navigation to unsheltered persons that’s available 24/7 — and that includes transportation,” Alexander said. “So we shouldn’t just look at it from the side of enforcement. This is also a good opportunity to offer people that need help a real option that they may not be aware of or they may be ready to avail themselves of.”
As for the Supreme Court’s recent decision, Alexander reiterated the city’s position that it conducts enforcement actions only when and where there is available shelter space.
“Mayor Caldwell wants to make sure that when we have to enforce an area, that we give real options to human beings,” Alexander said. “We want to help people, and that applies even more so during the season of joy and celebration. We want people off the streets where they can get a shower, be received with dignity, have a meal, and that’s true at one of our shelters or at our new HONU operation.”