Editor’s Note: Joli Tokusato is a candidate for Honolulu City Council, District 6. This commentary addresses her views on council bills 42, 43, 45 and 46.

Homelessness in Honolulu has increased by 30 percent in the last five years. As a taxpayer and resident, I am dismayed that City and County lawmakers have chosen “compassionate disruption” of our houseless neighbors rather than effectively addressing this issue by enacting and executing workable long-term solutions.

Instead, they have chosen unethical, cruel, and sweeping “no sit-lie” policies that mirror the big urban U.S. cities on the continent, rather than fostering our commitment to a healthy public commons and promoting the values of our shared island home.

Vladimir the homeless man

A homeless man pushes his cart of belongings through downtown Honolulu.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

To criminalize homelessness in Waikiki and all of Oahu, when adequate and accessible services and housing still have not been truly implemented, is immoral and unconstitutional. For this reason, the Honolulu City Council should vote down Bills 42, 43, 45, and 46.

At its root, our City Council has played an active role in creating laws that facilitate a hyper-inflated housing market and depletion of true affordable housing. To add insult to injury, many city leaders frame the houseless as if they are the source of the problem — not the result of poor policies.

For example, city lawmakers mandated that all public restrooms be locked for the night. Though increased public safety was the goal, unforeseen circumstances resulted: people had no other option but to relieve themselves in public, additional burdens on city staff charged with locking up restrooms, and tax dollars wasted in the processing of the violations by the Prosecutor’s Office, in the paying of police officers for time in district courts, and by the State Judiciary.

Now, proposed fines and incarceration of our houseless neighbors would aggravate our overcrowded prison system and waste taxpayer dollars at over $100 per day. It has been estimated that each raid costs taxpayers $15,000.

Over the last 15 years, I have sheltered four houseless people in my home. Their lengths of stay ranged from two months up to a year.  One had a job, one was waiting on housing, and two were chronically homeless with health challenges. These are real people. In addition to being destitute and disenfranchised, imagine how getting arrested, entangled in the legal system, and fined would have pushed them further into the hole from which they are trying to escape. These bills represent the last thing Honolulu needs right now.

Instead, we need to unlock the public restrooms and hire bathroom attendants for Waikiki and downtown, install portable toilets where they are needed, and hire sanitation workers to clean public sidewalks and doorways every morning. This would benefit local merchants and our local economy.  We need a true “housing first” initiative funded by raising property taxes of non-resident owners of second homes. We also need a thoughtfully-implemented, voluntary “flight-home” program.

There is nothing compassionate about these “Arrest First” bills that do nothing more than criminalize our houseless neighbors.

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