Two bills making it illegal for people to “lodge” or otherwise obstruct pedestrians on city sidewalks islandwide were deferred by a City Council committee Wednesday after homeless advocates and council members questioned whether they pass legal muster.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee, called for the deferral to allow time for Corporation Counsel Donna Leong and other Caldwell administration staff to provide more answers.
The two measures represent a shift in policy for the administration, which has supported sit-lie measures in narrowly targeted business zones but had steadfastly refused to support an islandwide prohibition, arguing they would not stand up constitutionally.
Bill 51 makes it a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100 to obstruct or impede a city sidewalk between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Bill 52 makes it illegal to “lodge” on a public sidewalk or other public area at any hour of the day.
City Managing Director Roy Amemiya said Honolulu has “a bit of a problem here in our city with people occupying our sidewalks and our streets and our parks and our doorways. These two measures help to free the sidewalks of obstructions as well as people lodging on our sidewalks in an attempt to make sidewalks what they were intended and that is to traverse our city.”
In some areas, Amemiya said, the sidewalks are so crowded that pedestrians have to take the risk of walking onto a street or highway to travel.
Mateo Caballero, legal director for the ACLU of Hawaii said that Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S. and a lack of affordable housing is a major contributor for the state’s large homeless population.
“We encourage your committee to further consider the causes of homelessness and the effectiveness of the city’s approach, which is not working,” Caballero said. “Looking at the evidence, it will show that criminalization of poverty is incredibly destructive and counterproductive.”
And while the bills stipulate that people won’t be cited unless there are sufficient shelter beds available for them to enter, there are nearly 2,145 unsheltered individuals on Oahu and not enough beds to accommodate them all, he said. Almost half of the homeless population sleep in their vehicles nightly, he said.
Several people testified in support of the bills, including residents of Waianae, Chinatown and Waikiki.
Waianae resident Tam Reef said “the explosion of the homeless problem … over the last seven to eight months” is troubling for West Oahu residents. “Our beaches — Pokai Bay, the surrounding areas, Makaha — are simply getting to the point where they are not safe to visit anymore.”
Reef said he finds human waste and drug paraphernalia on the beach and “we deal with violence among the homeless community.”
Waikiki resident Dave Moskowitz said health, safety and sanitation are the key reasons he supports expansion of the sit-lie bans.