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ACLU calls homeless sweeps during the holidays ‘cruel’ and calls on city to stop

Published: Dec. 24, 2020 at 10:38 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 24, 2020 at 10:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii says homeless sweeps haven’t worked and has called on the city to stop — at least for the holidays.

“It’s just plain cruel to this over the holidays,” said Joshua Wisch, ACLU of Hawaii executive director.

“People who don’t have the resources to be housed have enough of a hard time as it is without someone coming by on Christmas Eve and threatening to arrest them.”

The city declined Hawaii News Now’s request for an interview, but officials sent a statement.

“As you are aware, the city administration believes in the concept of compassionate disruption as a means to encourage homeless individuals into better situations,” Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya said, in the statement.

“We believe that everyone deserves to be sheltered where they can feel safe and supported, especially during the holidays. Accordingly, we plan on continuing the program through the holiday season.”

Duane Souza says he has been living on the streets most of his life and agrees that the sweeps do more harm than good.

“You take all this guy’s stuff, this guy no more nothing now. He doesn’t even have money for buy him a toothbrush. He doesn’t know where to start to get another toothbrush. So, he walks down the road to the next area, and he sees a guy with a toothbrush and toothpaste, he’s going to rip that guy off,” Souza said.

“It’s a back and forth war.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, homeless camps should not be removed due to concerns of spreading COVID-19 ― unless housing units are available.

Outreach workers and service providers say the sweeps are backfiring,

“It disrupts housing outreach. If people are in a given area and they’re no longer in a given area because they hear that law enforcement is coming, that frustrates our ability to get them the services that they need,” said Nikos Leverenz with Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center.

“If they have a housing voucher and they’re not in an area or worse yet, they’re put into jail for over 90 days, they lose that housing voucher.”

The ACLU says since Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell took office in 2013, the number of people who are unsheltered has increased by 77%.

Maya Rogers, a supervisor at Peace Café, says the camps in Moiliili have grown exponentially over the past several years.

“It’s definitely way more than ever before,” said Rogers. “Just because you get rid of it and put it somewhere else or throw it away doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to try go and find shelter.”

Mayor-elect Rick Blangiardi said that he does not believe compassionate disruption is an effective policy and he is working on a plan. Blangiardi will be sworn in in nine days.

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