Homeless 'sidewalk' bill closer to becoming law

Homeless 'sidewalk' bill closer to becoming law

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A proposal to make it illegal to sit or lie down on public sidewalks across Oahu is one step closer to becoming law after passing a second city council vote.

"Our citizens are demanding that the City and County of Honolulu take back our sidewalks -- that we take back our public spaces for everyone. They're demanding action. We need to give it to them and that's what we're doing," said District 3 council member Ikaika Anderson, who wrote Bill 45 to expand upon Bill 42 which would have limited the sit-lie ban to Waikiki.

City officials say the measure aims to clear homeless from public sidewalks with a 24 hour ban island-wide so that everyone can safely and freely use them, but the controversial proposal has raised concerns it could "criminalize" being homeles, which is not illegal.

"It's just not the aloha way. It's not Hawaii. It's not who we are and that's not how we solve problems," said District 1 council member Kymberly Pyne, who opposes both sit-lie bills.

Everyone agrees something needs to be done -- including 65-year-old Tom, who has been living at A?ala Park for several years now.

"I can understand it because I've got a crippled leg. I got to walk around the people on Pauahi Street. Try goo down to Pauahi Street -- you can't even walk down the sidewalk," Tom described. But he, like many others in his situation, don't believe making it illegal to sit or lie on a public sidewalk is the answer.

"I mean they don't need much -- a roof over their heads and to me that would be the understanding," Tom said.

If the bill becomes law, violators could be fined up to $1,000 and spend up to 30 days in jail.

"This is just not the Hawai?i way to solve such a crisis like this. There's another way to do this," Pine said.

She believes the real solution is in the $45 million the city has earmarked to create additional shelter space and ultimately permanent housing.

"We just need sometime to let that money be spent and implement the programs that we're hoping to provide for these very people that we're trying to get off the streets," Pine said.

The state estimates there are 4,712 homeless living on O?ahu. City officials say there are currently 4,396 beds -- which includes all transitional shelters, emergency shelters, safe havens, permanent supportive housing and mental health assistance.

Jennie Lynn Cannon says it's clear the numbers don't add up.

"I don't like it out here, but it's hard to find a place. The rent is too expensive," the 31-year-old said.

Unable to afford the mortgage, Cannon's family lost their house after her dad died. They know it's illegal to sleep in the park, so for the last three years they've lived in tents on the sidewalk.

"We have no place to go. If they build more shelters, then yeah -- maybe we can all go in a shelter," Cannon said.

But proponents of the bill say many homeless are choosing not to get help. They say the bill is crucial to what Mayor Kirk Caldwell calls "compassionate disruption". Social service providers have confirmed recent enforcement sweeps have proven if officials make it difficult for people to live on the streets, they will voluntarily move into shelters.

"Historically the shelter spaces have consistently been available -- dozens of beds on any given evening. That's a fact and that's been in place -- that's been the existing condition -- for a long time now. That's not going to change for the foreseeable future. Why is that not going to change? Because there's a lack of encouragement in making folks move on. It's unfortunate, but that's what we really need to do is encourage folks to move on," Anderson said.

The ACLU of Hawai?i opposes the bill saying, "Criminalization of basic human functions in the absence of options for shelter violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment."

During Wednesday's city council meeting many local business owners and their employees voiced their support for the measure, especially those in the Waikiki area, who say they've suffered financially.

There are exemptions to the bills, including -- if a person is sitting or lying on a sidewalk due to a medical emergency; or if they're engaging in an expressive activity or attending a festival, performance or parade. It also protects individuals who are sitting in a chair or bench that has been placed by a public agency upon a public sidewalk or anyone who is sitting in line for a good or service -- so long as their possessions aren't impeding the ability of pedestrians to use the sidewalk or enter a doorway.

Both Bill 42 and Bill 45 passed Wednesday -- along with bills 43 and 46, which make it illegal to urinate or defecate in public in Waikiki and across O?ahu.

All measures will be taken up again in the Zoning and Planning committee before they head back to the full city council for a final vote sometime in August.

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