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Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed a bill on Tuesday extending the city’s ban on sitting and lying on sidewalks in Waikiki to commercial districts throughout Oahu.
The law, aimed at clearing homeless away from storefronts and commercial districts, prohibits obstructing sidewalks from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is punishable by fines of up to $1,000.
The law applies to targeted areas in Chinatown, downtown, Kailua, McCully — Moiliili, Wahiawa, Ala Moana Sheridan, Kaneohe, Waimanalo, Kahala, Aina Haina, Niu Valley, Kaimuki and Hawaii Kai. (Click here for maps.)
A man sleeps on the sidewalk by a trash can along Kalakaua Avenue In Waikiki.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Bill 48 passed the Honolulu City Council 7-2 last month, despite some concerns from the bill’s author, Ron Menor, about whether it would stand up in court. City officials have said in the past that they expect opponents of the measure to sue the city over this latest ban, as well as a bill signed into law earlier this year that prohibits sitting and lying on streets and sidewalks in Waikiki.
Kathryn Xian, who has been advocating on behalf of the homeless and is executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, told Civil Beat that her group was collecting data and victims’ stories to assist attorneys who may be interested in taking up the case.
Caldwell said after the City Council vote last month that the city’s Corporation Counsel would vet the bill to ensure that it was legally defensible before he signed it.
Supporters of the so-called sit-lie bans say that homeless are infringing upon the rights of the public to walk down unobstructed sidewalks and hurting businesses who have to contend with homeless lying outside of their storefronts.
Since the Waikiki measure was signed into law in September, Caldwell and business leaders have said that there has been a notable improvement in the tourist district.
Paul Kosasa, president of ABC Stores, said that homeless people had been lying on mattresses on the sidewalk in front of one of his stores near St. Augustine Church. Since the Waikiki ban went into effect, he said the homeless had moved.
“The ones that were in front of that store would actually have mattresses and would lie perpendicular to the sidewalk. They weren’t lying parallel to the sidewalk so people would have to deliberately walk around them,” he said. “It didn’t look good.”
The sit-lie bans have been controversial, however. Caldwell has couched the measures as part of his “compassionate disruption” campaign, aimed at encouraging homeless to enter the shelter system by enforcing a litany of nuisance laws.
But homeless advocates, as well as council members Kymberly Pine and Brandon Elefante, have argued that the measures simply shuffle homeless from area to area because there is a lack of shelter space and many homeless who suffer from mental illness and drug and alcohol dependence either aren’t welcome in shelters or don’t want to go to them, in part because of the litany of rules.
Early data appears to support that claim.
Phocused, a nonprofit organization serving the state’s most vulnerable population, has been collecting data on the homeless population for months. Scott Morishige, the groups’s executive director, said that there hasn’t been any change in the number of vacancies at Oahu’s emergency shelters since the Waikiki sit-lie ban went into effect in September. Furthermore, the Waikiki homeless seem to be simply migrating to other areas.
In Kakaako makai, he said the number of tents increased from 72 in early September to about 95 as of Nov. 6. Morishige estimates that there are about three to four people per tent.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the number of homeless are increasing in Kalihi along Kapalama Canal and Stadium Park in Moiliili.
Morishige said that with the expansion of the sit-lie ban to commercial districts throughout Oahu, the homeless will increasingly move into residential areas.
“They’re just going to be pushed from one area to another,” he said. “It makes it difficult for the service providers to locate and transition them to housing because it’s harder to find them and it makes the homeless more distrustful of service providers.”
The Caldwell administration is currently working to develop long-term housing solutions for the homeless living on the streets under a program known as Housing First.
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