Homeless sidewalk nuisance jurisdiction loophole

Homeless sidewalk nuisance jurisdiction loophole

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bill 7 was enacted to make it easier for officials to remove tents and other belongings left on city sidewalks to ensure they remain safe and passable for everyone, but despite the city's attempts to keep the sidewalks clear – a tent community of homeless people is growing in Kaka'ako.  Officials say the issue isn't enforcement, but jurisdiction.

Kryslin Nishibun is a student intern at the University of Hawai'i Cancer Center.  She walks in the area every day, but says since the city began enforcing Bill 7 by roping off the sidewalk on Ilao Street, homeless have relocated just a few yards away to Ohe Street.

"They'll sweep one street and they'll clean up for the day, and the next morning I'm back and so are they," described Nishibun.

Nishibun says their tents and other belongings are often blocking the sidewalk – forcing her to walk in the street instead.

"I've had a couple of run-ins, some verbal harassment.  I try to ignore it and they get more aggressive.  That's kind of been problematic," explained Nishibun.

City officials say they can only do so much because there are a number of different property owners in the Kaka'ako area, including the Hawaii Community Development Authority, Kamehameha Schools and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  City and County leaders say they need a unified effort in order to end illegal encamping from homeless.

"There are situations where people do seek refuge with private property owners and with private property to avoid the enforcement actions that we take," explained Ross Sasamura, the Director and Chief Engineer of the Department of Facility Maintenance, which is in charge of overseeing city sidewalks and enforcing Ordinance 13-8 enacted through Bill 7.

"Our purpose and our responsibility is not to cure homelessness.  Our responsibility is to ensure the public access to sidewalks and public facilities are maintained, and that everybody has a right to use those sidewalks for safe passage.  Our progress is measured by whether or not people can actually traverse sidewalks safely and as homeless encampments tend to move to different locations, we'll move our enforcement actions accordingly," said Sasamura.

Sasamura says Kaka'ako isn't the only neighborhood where the city and county has run into jurisdiction issues trying to enforce Bill 7.

"Private property owners are allowing encampments to occur within their property, with the thought that they're providing some sympathy and some hope for people who are down on their luck.  I think the best support and the best service that they can provide to the homeless will be through homeless service providers rather than trying to do it themselves through allowing encampments to happen on private property," explained Sasamura.

City officials say sidewalk enforcement is only part of Mayor Kirk Caldwell's overall efforts to fight homelessness and illegal encamping.

"Some people have mental health issues, some people have drug abuse issues and there are programs to help them – but first, they have to come in the system.  They have to come in the shelter.  Mayor Caldwell calls it 'compassionate disruption' by making it uncomfortable to live illegally on the sidewalk, hopefully more people get into the system and get the help that they need," explained Jesse Broder Van Dyke, Mayor Caldwell's Communications Director.

Officials say enforcement rounds happen weekly, but if anyone ever encounters an impassable sidewalk they should notify the city – and if they're ever threatened or believe they're in danger, call 911 immediately.

"I think people should just be respectful of those who are on the streets and hopefully you'll get that two-way respect back," said Nishibun.

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