City of Honolulu spends nearly $2M enforcing sidewalk ordinances

City of Honolulu spends nearly $2M enforcing sidewalk ordinances
Ross Sasamura
Ross Sasamura
Jan Ching
Jan Ching

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The City and County of Honolulu has spent more than $1.9 million dollars since last January enforcing its sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has described an increase in enforcement of these existing laws as a necessary first step in the city's two-part initiative to end homelessness. Part two is the establishment of additional housing to cater to those in the most need.

The city's Department of Facility Maintenance is responsible for enforcing the ordinances, which are aimed at keeping private property off public land.

"It's approximately $15,000 per day. It includes payroll for the staff and the costs of operating the vehicles that are used to transport the staff and all of the materials that we pick up," said Ross Sasamura, the Director and Chief Engineer of the Department of Facility Maintenance.

Sasamura says crews go out three to five times per week, including Friday morning when they were sent to the canal off Dillingham Boulevard and Kohou Street.

Families and individuals who hadn't packed up the night before -- quickly scrambled to gather their belongings when contract workers arrived around 6:30 a.m. A regular to the area loaded his stuff into a boat for safe-keeping and paddled away, while most others carted off their few possessions.

Anything that's not cleared gets confiscated and stored by the city. Owners have 30 days to claim items or they're thrown out. Anything with value is auctioned off, but officials say most of it is trash. Approximately three tons of garbage is picked up every week.

"The intent of the sidewalk nuisance ordinance and the stored property ordinance is not to cure homelessness, it's to address specific issues relating to use of facilities and access to facilities -- so from that standpoint our program is successful," said Sasamura.

The people who are temporarily displaced say the enforcement efforts are clearly not an effective tool for ending homelessness.

41-year-old Jan Ching gathered what she could this morning.

When asked where she takes her stuff, she answered, "Not to far. Right across the street and then we bring it back."

Ching's been homeless for 11 years and says she's been doing this shuffle for a while now. She says she hides her belongings in a bush across the street from where crews are clearing along the canal and waits for them to leave. Ching says when the trucks pull away, she hauls everything back.

"It's no different to us from patching pot holes. As often as we go out and as quickly as we patch 2,500 pot holes a week -- we may be going back within three months to patch the same pot hole, but it's what we're here to do. Provide that service to the public," said Sasamura.

The city keeps record of the locations they enforce, but not how many times they go back to the same place.

When asked if the city believes its enforcement is a well-executed plan with money well-spent, Sasamura answered, "Yes, it is. As far as I'm concerned, it's what we need to do to fulfill our responsibilities to everybody here."

Four hours after crews cleared Kohou Street, Ching was back and slowly unpacking. She says she lost a few things, because she was slow getting ready.

"A good dolly -- dolly wagon -- and a nice tub for wash clothes and shower," Ching said with a sigh.

She says another enforcement is expected in about two weeks, and she'll be better prepared the next time.

"That's what I heard. Not too bad," said Ching smiling.

City officials say every enforcement action is driven by complaints from the public. If you spot an area of concern, you can report it by calling the DFM office at: # (808) 768-3343.

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