The Honolulu City Council is considering a bill that would expand the city’s sit-lie ban another few blocks in the Ala Moana-Sheridan area.
The bill would add to the growing list of Honolulu sidewalks where it’s illegal to sit or lie between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., a method of moving homeless people away from storefronts. There are currently similar bans in parts of Ala Moana, Waikiki, Chinatown, Kalihi, Kanehoe, Kahala, Hawaii Kai and other sections of Oahu.
Bill 66 would extend the city’s sit-lie ban from Piikoi Street to Victoria Street in the Ala Moana-Sheridan neighborhood.
Ann Kobayashi, who represents neighborhoods from Kaimuki to Makiki, introduced the measure after Mayor Kirk Caldwell vetoedBill 20, an earlier version of her bill.
The city’s Corporation Counsel did not sign off on the original bill because it extended the sit-lie ban along Makahiki Way, a residential street in Moiliili. Citing legal concerns, Caldwell wrote that he was “gravely concerned that the passage of Bill 20 may result in a challenge to the legitimacy of the Sit-Lie Laws” because the bans are intended only for commercial zones.
Councilman Joey Manahan of Kalihi proposed an amendment to Kobayashi’s new bill. His amendment calls for a sit-lie ban along the entire length of Pacific Street in Iwilei.
The ACLU of Hawaii has yet to challenge the city’s sit-lie ban. A case may not hold up in court, said Mateo Caballero, legal director of the local ACLU, because of a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that cities can implement sit-lie bans as long as there are still areas where the homeless can go.
He said an island-wide ban, for example, would be unconstitutional because a homeless person would be left with no choice but to violate the ban.
Kobayashi and Manahan said they have no current plans to further expand the sit-lie ban in their districts. But they might but do so in response to specific complaints from businesses and residents.
Following the first sit-lie ban adopted by the city in 2014, council members have introduced a number of bills to keep the homeless away from businesses in their districts.
“The end will come either, of course, with a lawsuit, or potentially when the city realizes that it’s just not working,” Caballero said. “We’re spending a lot of resources enforcing the ban and not getting the homeless population under control.”
In May, Caldwell signed a bill extending the ban along four Iwilei streets and covering an area in Kalihi. Tents for the homeless crowded the sidewalks in Iwilei, where the state’s largest shelter, the Institute for Human Services, is located.
The results were like “night and day,” Manahan said, adding that sidewalk access in front of businesses has improved since the ban implementation.
Still, he acknowledges the ban pushed many people living on the city’s sidewalks to state-owned land nearby.
Likewise, a recent sweep along Nimitz Highway in Kalihi caused more people to settle on sidewalks along King Street in the McCully neighborhood, Kobayashi said.
Councilman Brandon Elefante of Aiea calls this shuffling of people around Honolulu a “cat-and-mouse game.” He has consistently voted against the sit-lie ban bills.
The city adopted its first sit-lie ban in 2014 to clear Waikiki of homeless, hoping it would encourage the homeless to move to shelters.
Kimo Carvalho, a spokesperson for IHS, was not available for comments Monday.
At a City Council meeting in February, Carvalho testified on behalf of IHS in favor of expanding the sit-lie ban in Iwilei. He described the homeless population in the area as “service resistant.”
“We need a tool,” he said in February. “We need something that is going to motivate them to take action and do something with their lives, and this really helps.”
Caballero of the ACLU, however, argued there aren’t enough beds available for Hawaii’s homeless population. According to a 2015 ACLU Hawaii report, Honolulu’s homeless shelters on average offer 170 vacant beds, while there are thousands of homeless people.
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