HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two homeless women claim that city crews didn't allow them to retrieve identification documents when their homeless camps were cleared recently. But the city says its policy should have allowed them to get the ID's.
Until recently, Linda Hillier lived in a tent on Kuwili Street in Iwilei. She's been on the streets since last July, when her social Security disability insurance money wasn't enough to pay her rent and utilities. She was returning to her tent last Monday morning to find a city crew clearing the area.
"It just happened so quick, and I was just in tears. I was just hurt," said Hillier. "Because it happened to be me before, so I figured, there goes my life -- again."
Hillier said the crews took her tent, her air mattress, her books and several other belongings. She claims she wasn't allowed to retrieve an important piece of identification. "My birth certificate. I just got it from Norfolk, Virginia. And it's gone. they took that, too."
Another homeless woman who suffers from diabetes also said she wasn't allowed to get important belongings when her homeless camp at Aala Park was cleared at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
"They told us to get out. So we cannot grab nothing," said Paio. "We can only grab what we can grab. That's it. I said I wanted my blanket because I was sick, yeah? So they said cannot."
When asked if she had her medication or ID, she said "no." She said the city took them.
"I can understand taking all the stuff. You don't want people living like that," said Bob Marchant, executive director of the River of Life Mission. "But why not let them take their identification, their papers, with them. Or if they have money in the tent, why not let them get it?"
Homeless advocates said losing identification documents is a major roadblock. "There's not a whole lot they can do," said Jason Espero, director of Waikiki Health's Care-A-Van program. "You can't apply for housing without an ID. You can't apply for welfare."
Espero's agency helps the homeless and others who have lost essential identification by guiding them through the application process, including for birth certificates. However, he added, "If they're out of state, we have to have them apply out of state from the city where they were born, and that could take anywhere from a month to three months."
The city was not aware of the women's specific cases, but it says homeless people are supposed to be allowed to take what are called "life necessities."
"When we talk about life's necessities, we're talking about identification, important documents, medications, valuables, currency," said Ross Sasamura, the city's Director of Facilities Maintenance.
While it is city policy, "Sweeps sometime send up with homeless folks being separated from their belongings, which include ID's and other essential documents," said State Homeless Coordinator Colin Kippen, in a text message from Washington, D.C.
A notice from the city given to Hillier said seized property can be reclaimed, but only after a $200 payment. But if the women want to retrieve their identification, Sasamura said there will be no fee charged. "Anything related to the retrieval of life necessities does not require payment of any kind," said Sasamura.
But even without payment, it will still be a challenge for Hillier. "I need transportation, and I don't have nobody to help me," she said.
Marchant believes taking ID will only make it even harder for the homeless.
"It's being made more difficult for the people, which is going to increase the problem."