Former Pearl City family says city's efforts to end homelessness is hurting, not helping
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former Pearl City family says a perfect storm of events led to them living on the streets, but they say an effort designed by officials to end homelessness is keeping them there.
"We're trying to stay together as a family and it's hard. Every sweep that comes -- they take away our pride, along with our stuff. It's everything we work hard for -- pictures, photos, my baby's toys, our clothes -- sometimes they even take our food, but it's no big deal 'cause we're still together right?" Tabitha Martin said.
Her husband, Tracy Martin, says he used to put in 130 hours every two weeks until he had a heart attack last May. Tracy says he couldn't go back to work at full-capacity, so he lost his job.
"We applied for welfare, but the paperwork got screwed up for three-months straight," Tracy said. The Martins managed to make ends meet for another three months, but when they could no longer afford rent they were kicked out of their Pearl City apartment.
"When we lost our place, we got the first month of food stamps and financial benefits. Then the next month, we lost it because we didn't have an address," Tracy said.
"We're just trying to survive. We don't want to be here," Tracy said, gesturing toward the few belongings the family still has piled up along the street.
He and Tabitha are now raising their daughter Thalia on a sidewalk in Kaka'ako.
It's illegal for them to live on the beach or in a park.
"The sidewalk was a last resort. We can move on the road, but that's about it. We don't have no option. We don't have a place to go. Pretty soon we're not going to have any place on this island to go and it's not my fault I was born here, you know?" Tabitha said.
The Martin's won't go to a shelter if they can't stay together, but each time they've tried they say they were told there wasn't space for families unless they split up.
"We're a family. We got into this together, we're going to get out together. Why separate us?" Tracy said, adding it has only gotten tougher since his ID was seized when city crews came through enforcing the sidewalk nuisance ordinance.
"A city worker and HPD run up with red tape and tape off everything and whatever is behind that red tape you're not allowed to touch it. If you do, you go to jail," said Tabitha.
The mayor's office confirms crews use red tape so people won't interfere with city operations.
"In enforcing the City's Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance, the Department of Facility Maintenance establishes a government operations zone within a sidewalk that is marked by barrier tape. DFM then warns anyone with personal property within that zone to take any life necessities, such as medications, wallets, identification cards, certificates, clothing, food etc. that the person can carry on their person. All other sidewalk nuisances must remain and will be removed and impounded immediately. Should the person attempt to remove anything that is not a life necessity, it will be considered an obstruction of government operations, which is not allowed," said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, the city's Communications Director.
"The sweeps literally paralyze you," Tracy said, explaining that the family lost everything during an enforcement a few months ago.
"My daughter had a fever over a hundred and my wife was trying to get to an appointment at the welfare office when they came. I explained to the police what was going on and the officer said, 'Alright, pass these guys' and told me, 'Go take care of your family.' They did that and they went down and did everything else. We went and when we got back, nothing was there. They went down the street, came right back, took our stuff and left," said Tracy.
The Martin's say the city's efforts to end homelessness are hurting their ability to get off the streets.
"There's a lot of city and county workers that don't want to do what they do. They actually do sweeps and then they'll come back in the afternoon and bring food, clothes and stuff," Tracy said. "I've seen the rookies cry when these things happen."
The Martin's say they don't understand what the city accomplishes by taking their belongings.
"There's a lot of children who go to school with no school books because they got taken in the sweep the day before," said Tabitha.
"Christmas time was sad. They came here and took all the kids toys," said Tracy.
This is not what the Martin's envisioned for Thalia, who turns three next week.
"She deserves a better life, I work hard for it, but the city seems to be working harder in making us go backwards. Each sweep that comes moves us back ten spaces," Tabitha said. She's enrolled in a job training program but says it's been hard to find work because her phone has been seized in the past.
City officials confirm the sidewalk nuisance ordinance does not require a 24 hour notice because it effects people's ability to use public sidewalks. Any belongings that are collected are stored for 30 days and if they're not claimed, the city disposes it or auctions it off. Owners have to pay a $200 citation to recover their items, but since last January only four people have done that.
"A lot of people cannot imagine, but I wish they would 'cause it could happen to anybody. Everybody has just one pay check away from being homeless, you know? One slip up, one heart attack, one stroke -- could just end your career, your job and then you lose your home -- everything you own," Tabitha said.
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