The ACLU lawsuit had asked a court to stop what it called ‘targeted enforcement and harassment.’

Two months after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Honolulu over its policies on homeless encampments, the City has responded saying the allegations won’t hold up.

The ACLU had filed a lawsuit in late July alleging that policies like sit-lie bans, a prohibition against storing personal property in public space and a ban on camping in public parks and beaches violate the Hawaii state constitution, particularly with regards to cruel and unusual punishment. 

In its memorandum in opposition filed Wednesday the City said, “Plaintiffs believe that the continued enforcement of the Public Welfare Laws against the homeless will outrage the ‘moral sense of the community.’ They have clearly misread the community’s ‘moral sense.’”

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi added his own thoughts in a press release issued Wednesday. 

“We understand that homelessness is not a crime, and we must treat those experiencing homelessness with respect and empathy. Consequently, we are also exploring alternative solutions to homelessness, such as increasing housing inventory and expanding support services,” he said.

The mayor has called Honolulu’s homelessness one of the city’s “wicked problems.”

Cities are not constitutionally allowed to enforce sweeps and related policies against homeless people unless there is sufficient shelter space available, according to a 2019 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a case against the city of Boise, Idaho. 

The City of Boise appealed that decision later that year, giving the U.S. Supreme Court the opportunity to hear the case and potentially reverse the lower court’s decision. But the Court declined, leaving the decision intact

States within the 9th Circuit – which includes Hawaii – remain impacted, and the ACLU references this decision in its original claim against the City. The City argues in its response that the Boise decision applies only when a ban is citywide, and that Honolulu’s ban is narrower than that. 

Read the City’s response:

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