Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposals to give Honolulu officials more authority to crack down on homeless people in public places got an initial hearing before the City Council on Wednesday.

Bill 51 targets the belongings of homeless people by outlawing sidewalk obstructions from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. People could be cited if their property leaves less than 36 inches of sidewalk space for pedestrians and they refuse to comply with a warning. Violators could receive a $100 fine or have to do community service.

Bill 52 takes aim at homeless people “lodging” on public property if shelter facilities are available. “Lodging” is defined as occupying a place temporarily, sleeping or resting, and refusing to leave.

Council members met at Kapolei Hale on Wednesday. Courtney Teague/Civil Beat

Officers who confront a homeless person “lodging” on the sidewalk would arrange transportation to a nearby shelter if the person is willing. The person could be cited, or arrested and charged with a petty misdemeanor if they refuse shelter and refuse to leave the area within an hour.

Caldwell’s office drafted the bills. He announced the proposals at a June press conference held across the street from a small homeless encampment in Kakaako.

Councilman Brandon Elefante, who consistently opposes sit-lie legislation, was the only council member to voice opposition to the bills, which passed on first reading in 7-1 votes.

The lone testifier against the bills Tuesday was David Cannell, who said his family had once been homeless for a decade.

Cannell held a sign that read “Housing = Health = A Basic Human Right” and urged the council to consider low-cost housing options instead of more punitive measures.

‘A Visual Blight’

The city doesn’t have enough beds to house all 4,500 homeless people estimated to live on Oahu, Caldwell said during the recent press conference, but it does have enough room to house the most visible “chronic” homeless people in Oahu’s urban core.

Caldwell anticipated pushback on the bills and said he welcomed a public debate.

The mayor’s office submitted each draft bill with a note addressed to the council.

Mayor Caldwell, right with his team announcing new homeless laws at press conference held at Halekauwil/Keawe street in Kakaako.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced his new measures to crack down on homeless people across the street from homeless campers in Kakaako last month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a note regarding Bill 51 to ban possessions on sidewalks, Caldwell drew a distinction between his proposal and sit-lie legislation, which is touted as a way to improve access to businesses. Bill 51 is related to pedestrian safety, he wrote.

In a note regarding Bill 52 to ban “lodging” in public, Caldwell wrote, “Our sidewalks and public areas are meant to be used by the general public, and the presence of illegal lodging in these areas robs the public of using and enjoying them. Illegal lodging also creates a visual blight on our streets, and exposes the public to unsafe and unhealthy environments.”

Tearing Down Buildings?

Bills 51 and 52 weren’t the only measures related to public property heard Wednesday.

The council voted again on Bill 37, introduced by Councilman Trevor Ozawa, which would authorize the demolition of city-owned buildings in Waikiki where drug activity has taken place, excluding restrooms.

Ozawa, whose district includes Waikiki, called the pavilions that line Waikiki beach “a breeding ground for violence and criminal activity” in a previous interview with Civil Beat.

Bill 37 suggests that lewd, violent or inappropriate acts committed by people under the influence of drugs could threaten the popularity of Waikiki and its status as the state’s top tourist spot.

It calls for a city official to plan for a building’s destruction within 120 days of receiving “credible evidence” that a building is being used for drug sales or consumption. The bill doesn’t elaborate on what constitutes credible evidence.

Not everyone is convinced that demolishing buildings will deter drug use on public property.

The Waikiki Improvement Association submitted testimony asking that the bill be deferred, while the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association testified in support.

The bill was up for second reading. It passed on a 8-0 vote.

Bill 37 will face another committee hearing and one last full council hearing before it is ultimately approved or rejected.

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