Homeless people in Iwilei and Kalihi may need to pack up their tents if the Honolulu City Council passes two new bills aimed at expanding the city’s sit-lie ban.

The bill expands a long list of city sidewalks and pedestrian malls where sitting and lying on sidewalks is illegal. Sit-lie bans have been approved by the council in recent years, each pushing homeless encampments further outside of Honolulu’s urban core.

Both new bills passed first reading at a City Council meeting Wednesday. Councilman Brandon Elefante was the lone vote against the bills.  

It can take social workers months or even years to move a person into a shelter or permanent housing, Elefante said, and the sit-lie laws interrupt that process.

Councilman Brandon Elefante, whose district includes Aiea and Pearl City, has consistently voted against expanding sit-lie bans in Honolulu. Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who has opposed previous sit-lie bills, voted yes to both bills but with reservations.

Bill 13 would enforce the ban in a long section of Kalihi bordered by Kapalama Canal, King Street and Dillingham Boulevard, and Winant, Kaiwiula and McNeill streets. It includes Iwilei Road and three side streets.

Councilman Joey Manahan, who introduced the bill, said homeless encampments “inundated” Iwilei and Kalihi areas following the passage of the 2015 sit-lie bill, which pushed homeless away from the banks of Kapalama Canal. Manahan sponsored the 2015 bill, and the city erected a fence to block canal access.

Along Iwilei Road, Kuli and Sumner streets in Iwilei there are 120 homeless individuals and two families of six, Kimo Carvahlo of the Institute for Human Services said in testimony at the hearing. IHS operates a homeless shelter in Iwilei.

Low tide along the bmuddy banks of the Kapalama Canal near tents. 4 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Homeless encampments along Kapalama Canal grew in 2014 before the city enforced a sit-lie ban along the canal. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Bill 20, introduced by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, extends existing bans in the Moiliili and Ala Moana areas. In Moiliili, the ban is enforced along Makahiki Way up until Algaroba Street. The bill would extend the ban to include all of Makahiki Way.  

Near Ala Moana, Kobayashi’s bill would extend enforcement from Piikoi to Victoria Street.    

Manahan chose streets in Kalihi and Iwilei for the ban based on commercial activity.

“Customers are afraid to go to the area because it’s scary,” he said. “There’s drug dealing, there’s prostitution sometimes going on.”

He said the issue persists despite a year of weekly sweeps, a controversial practice in which the city seizes property found along sidewalks.

The city adopted its first sit-lie ban in 2014 to clear Waikiki of homeless, with the hope that the ban would encourage homeless to move to shelters. This method, which Mayor Kirk Caldwell termed “compassionate disruption,” hasn’t always proved successful.

“It is not tenable to push out the homeless from urban areas,” said Mateo Caballero, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Homeless people have more access to to social services the closer they are to the urban core, he said.

The bans also make it more difficult for homeless to find shelter, Caballero said, because “now they have a criminal record.”

It only circumvents the process and moves people around. People who are less fortune and don’t have shelter.” — Councilman Brandon Elefante

Caldwell vetoed a 2015 sit-lie bill that would have ousted campers from Aala and Kapalama Canal, but the Honolulu City Council overrode the veto.

Caldwell cited concerns over the legality of sit-lie bans. City attorneys have voiced similar concerns. Sit-lie bans have faced legal suits in a number of mainland cities.

Despite criticism, Honolulu’s sit-lie bans have yet to be challenged in court and areas of enforcement continue to expand expanding.

The City and County of Honolulu hasn’t been sued yet, Caballero said, because unlike other cities, Honolulu sit-lie bans aren’t city-wide and there are still shelter beds available.

It only circumvents the process and moves people around,” Elefante said of sit-lie bans. “People who are less fortune and don’t have shelter.”

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