State DOT cannot ask homeless to leave Honolulu
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the City and County of Honolulu has begun enforcing a new law banning homeless from sitting or lying on sidewalks in Waikiki, more homeless are spending their nights at the Honolulu International Airport. State transportation officials say there's nothing they can do about it because there are no law against sleeping at the airport.
While the interisland terminals close every night, the other terminals remain open. Airport employees tell Hawaii News Now, a wave of homeless people begin arriving by bus around 10 p.m. and anywhere from 20 to 100 people spend the night there regularly.
One airline employee captured video on her cell phone of a recent evening in which you can see several people are asleep on benches -- some even charging their devices at outlets -- and clearly settling in for the night. The flight attendant, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she and others who work late night shifts are growing worried about their safety and are frustrated with the state's inability to take action. In her email to Hawaii News Now, she writes: "I just can't comprehend how security is first to chase people away in the cars when dropping off or picking up passengers when it takes all but a few minutes, yet the homeless is allowed to stay on the premises for 8+ hours?"
State Department of Transportation officials responded with the following statement:
"Although the staff and security at Honolulu Airport do actively patrol for suspicious and illegal activity the issue with homeless people sleeping at the airport at night has increased recently. However, homelessness, which is impacting many areas of our islands, is in and of itself not a crime. As you have seen in other places such as parks and sidewalks of Honolulu and in Waikiki, unless there are restrictions or laws prohibiting a person from being in a public space, law enforcement cannot just ask people to move along. Being an airport we are always working to improve the facility and the service. We have been and continue to seek ways to find a solution. For example, we have had social service providers visit some of the homeless who frequent the airport to explain about the shelters and services that are available."
The explanation from state officials didn't sit well with the flight attendant who captured the late-night homeless migration on camera.
"With the shifts I work, I see them getting ready for bed time and when they are waking up in the morning, I hear them discuss what area they want to sleep in, and they know just which areas operate early and other areas where they can sleep in. One night I witnessed a domestic argument between a man and a woman fighting over a blanket. When I asked airport security, which is operated by Securitas, they told me they can't do anything about it. As an airport employee, I feel that our safety is in jeopardy!" the woman wrote in her email to Hawaii News Now.
Sources familiar with the situation at the airport say state officials are considering closing off sections of the terminals in the next month or so to limit access to just one area.
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