Group questions city’s decision to conduct homeless sweep on New Year’s Eve

Group questions city’s decision to conduct homeless sweep on New Year’s Eve
Crews moved through Waikiki early Monday to conduct a homeless sweep. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Crews moved through Waikiki in the early-morning hours of New Year’s Eve to clear out bulky items belonging to the homeless.

The move, however, is raising eyebrows among a long list of civil rights and religious organizations questioning the city’s decision to conduct the sweeps in the overnight hours on or near holidays.

The group — which includes the ACLU, UNITE HERE Local 5, Temple Emanu-El and the Muslim Association of Hawaii — pointed out, in a statement, the city conducting sweeps the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and now New Year’s Eve.

“We understand the city’s stated intent for doing this is to help get people into shelters,” the statement said. “We agree with that goal. But we don’t understand why these sweeps must occur in the middle of the night, when shelters and services are limited.”

The group also said the sweeps could impact the accuracy of the upcoming point-in-time count, which gives the state an idea of how many homeless are on the streets.

“In the New Year, we truly hope we can work together as a community to discuss and implement community-based solutions to houselessness that are more effective, more legally defensible, and more consistent with the culture of aloha in our island home,” the group said.

Around the time of the city’s sweep on Christmas Eve, Acting Mayor Roy Amemiya issued this statement on the decision:

“True compassion is working to get everyone off the street. This is not an overnight process, but rather than spending Christmas on the street, we hope these people will be able to spend it in a shelter, with access to the care and services that they need."

And in a previous interview, Ross Sasamura, director and chief engineer of the city’s Department of Facility Maintenance, said, “The ordinances weren’t designed to move homeless people. They’re designed to remove obstructions from public property, remove obstructions from the sidewalk and allow to move freely.”

Sasamura added, “We understand the significance of the Christmas season and the holidays in general ... and it’s important to understand that the holidays and Christmas are there for everyone’s enjoyment and not just for a few people who choose to monopolize or impact other people.”

The city announces sweeps a day in advance on its website.

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