Federal appeals court ruling in Idaho could alter Hawaii homeless laws

Federal appeals court ruling in Idaho could alter Hawaii homeless laws
Updated: Sep. 5, 2018 at 10:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Critics of Oahu's 'sit-lie' bans say they have new ammunition after the federal appeals court ruled laws meant to get homeless people off sidewalks may violate their rights.

It's all tied to a case in Idaho.

The court said on Tuesday if there is no available shelter space available, homeless individuals on public property should be left alone.

Based on that ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now renewing its effort to change Honolulu laws.

"When you take a look at what happened in Boise and what we have currently in Honolulu, there are a lot of similarities," said ACLU Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch. "In Boise, you had far more people who are unsheltered than you had available shelter space. And the same thing is true in Honolulu only more so."

This comes as Honolulu's mayor and City Council are poised to expand the laws.

Two pending bills would make it illegal to live on a sidewalk or any other public areas if shelter facilities are available.

However, this ruling could change that.

Invoking the eighth amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Idaho that, "…as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property…"

January's "point-in-time" count found 2,145 unsheltered people on Oahu.

Records show only 100 to 200 shelter beds available most nights.

However, a spokesman for the state's largest homeless service provider says the city's sidewalk bans are working.

"Sit-lie law is not the solution to homelessness. It is a just a tool that is getting a lot of people to take action," said Kimo Carvalho. "And by advocating against it, what you're doing instead is, advocating for them to remain on the streets, unhealthy, costing taxpayers millions."

Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin doesn't expect the sidewalk bans to go away, but he expects the council may have to change existing laws and strengthen the island-wide expansion measure that's still pending.

"There may be shelter space available in Honolulu or let's say on the Leeward Coast. But my situation, I'm on the North Shore, my whole support network is on the North Shore. So those are not viable options for me. So, is that a basis for the law to be stricken down? We have to be very careful I think when we go forward," Martin said.

The city's administration said the Department of the Corporation Counsel is carefully reviewing the opinion.

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