The federal court has signed off on a number of changes to the temporary agreement that prevents the city from immediately disposing of any personal items during the enforcement of the stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances.

The changes are part of an ongoing legal dispute over how the city has been conducting homeless sweeps.

In September, 15 people — who are or have been homeless — filed a federal class-action lawsuit, alleging that the city is illegally cracking down on the homeless by removing their belongings and immediately destroying them.

A month later, the two parties reached a temporary, court-sanctioned agreement, under which the city agreed not to throw out any items that are considered a “sidewalk nuisance” or “personal property” under the terms of two ordinances.

On Wednesday, the amended agreement was signed to provide more clarity to the rules that the city’s maintenance crew must follow when conducting the sweeps.

City and County workers load trucks with large pieces of trash along Ohe Street as part of the city's homeless cleanup in Kakaako. 8 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The city’s maintenance crew loads trucks with large pieces of trash along Ohe Street during a sweep in September.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Under the new rules, the city is allowed to immediately dispose of any items catalogued in a two-page list, including “combustible or hazardous” objects, weapons, controlled substances and drug paraphernalia, as well as any items that “cannot reasonably be construed as anything other than trash.”

The city can also immediately dispose of anything infested with rodents or insects, as well as those soiled with “urine, feces or vomit to such a degree that no reasonable person could think that the item(s) could be clean and/or reused.”

Other items must be stored for at least 45 days — 15 days longer than required by law.

The city is also directed to notify the owners of the stored items using tags written in English, as well as in six other languages: Chuukese, Marshallese, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog and Tongan.

During the sweeps, the city would also have to give property owners 30 minutes — longer for those with disabilities — to retrieve their items. And all disposed items would have to be filmed, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys would be given access to the recordings every two weeks for the next six months.

As part of the amended agreement, the city withdrew its opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for a class-action status, effectively certifying “all homeless or formerly homeless individuals whose property was seized and destroyed” as part of the class.

In a statement, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office said the city is “pleased” with the amended agreement, noting that it “addresses a significant part of the lawsuit.”

Both parties are still working on a settlement and a proposal for the Honolulu City Council to consider in February to resolve the remaining issues in the lawsuit.

About the Author