City council advances sit-lie expansion bills

City council advances sit-lie expansion bills

KALIHI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Honolulu City Council committee advanced several new bills to expand the sit-lie ban, but critics urged members to look at other options to get Oahu's homeless off the streets.

The Committee on Zoning and Planning took up four bills that would expand the sit-lie ordinance and one measure that would make it illegal to camp or pitch a tent along a city-owned stream. During the special meeting, members heard testimony from both sides. The executive director of a non-profit asked the committee to expand the boundaries in the bills to include the group's office building on Kukui Street.

"We have people urinating, defecating. Since sit-lie ended a block from us we now had a guy passed out with drug paraphenalia who found his way into our bathroom. We've had really serious problems," said Judy Lind, executive director of Kukui Children's Foundation.

Critics of the sit-lie ban told the committee that the restrictions weren't working.

"If the purpose of the sit-lie policies is to incentivize homeless individuals to go into shelter, that doesn't appear to be what's happening," said Scott Morishige, executive director of PHOCUSED. "We're estimating there's as many as 549 empty shelter beds at any given time."

Morishige urged council members to consider "shallow rental subsidies" for homeless families. In other cities with the program, monthly payments range from $150 to $500.

"The idea of shallow rental subsidies is something that appears to have worked in other communities if it's targeted very specifically at homeless working households, people who already have stable earnings," explained Morishige.

In the end, the committee passed out all but one of the sit-lie bills. Members deferred Bill 43. The other measures will move on to a second hearing.

"My colleagues are hearing from their constituents that we need sit-lie to move forward. I would also argue that had we moved forward six months ago with Bill 45 that I introduced, which would have implemented an islandwide sit lie prohibition, we wouldn't be here today," said City Councilman Ikaika Anderson.

Meanwhile, two graduate students at the University of Hawaii's Department of Urban and Regional Planning released the results of their study on restrictions affecting the homeless, including the sit-lie ban and stored property ordinance. Their teams surveyed 70 people at encampments at Kakaako, Aala Park and Kapalama Canal. 68% of the respondents reported that sweeps had no effect on them seeking emergency shelter, according to the report.

"The overwhelming majority felt that the laws impacted them financially, emotionally, and some felt that they could possibly be violating their constitutional rights," said Tai Dunson-Strane, the study's co-author.

Bill 43 would have essentially amended existing sit-lie measures to include more legally sound language, but would have removed the portion along Kapalama Canal from King to Olomea Streets.

Bill 44 would expand the sit-lie law to all hours at specific public mall areas downtown and in Chinatown, making it illegal Sunday through Saturday at College Walk, Kila Kalikimaka Mall and Union Mall. Fort Street, Sun Yat Sen and Kekaulike are included during the hours of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bill 46 would make it illegal to put up tents near city-owned streams and embankments, such as Kapalama Canal, where doing so could create a public health or safety risk.

Bills 47 and 48 would both change the wording of the sit-lie measure to include "immediately abutting" zones and streets and "sidewalks on both sides of streets." Bill 47 does not include Kapalama Canal areas, while Bill 48 does and also includes portions of McCully, Moiliili and the Aala.

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