State bills would help rectify injustices caused by Honolulu’s “nuisance” laws

A brief rundown on three bills that would alleviate some of the unnecessary hardship inflicted upon our houseless citizens by city ordinances that target them unjustly.

News Report
Will Caron

Senate Bill 270 would limit the amount of fees that emergency homeless shelters can charge residents and establish participant rights at homeless facilities, including the return of shelter fees, access to banking information, and an appeals process for evicted residents.

“State law and case law regarding the protection of the rights of the houseless is nonexistent. Everyday, houseless persons living in shelters are taken advantage of without any access to justice. The houseless are our community’s most vulnerable and we must do everything in our power to ensure that they are not re-victimized by predatory financial systems, even within agencies initially designed to help the poor,” said Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS) Executive director Kathryn Xian.

“When PASS informed us of the conditions homeless residents face each day, we knew that we had to stand with them against economic injustice,” said IMUAlliance Executive director Kris Coffield. “Homeless people should never be charged exorbitant fees that worsen their financial plight, denied access to their bank accounts, or evicted from shelters without being told why. When shelter supervisors enact these policies, they violate basic civil and human rights.”

Together with PASS, IMUAlliance is a co-sponsor of SB270, as well as SB269 and SB273.

The second proposal, Senate Bill 269, would allow a person convicted of state or county obstruction laws, including Honolulu’s sit-lie, sidewalk nuisance, and stored property bans, to vacate convictions resulting from homelessness. Members of the Senate Human Services and Housing Committee passed the bill on February 2.

“Recently passed and selectively enforced laws that criminalize the houseless have not been working to help them obtain shelter or permanent housing. In fact, these abusive laws contradict the good work social service providers do with the houseless on a daily basis,” said Xian. “These laws, under the guise of ‘compassionate disruption’, result in the unconstitutional confiscation and disposal of important identification documents, medication for serious illnesses, and ambulatory aids for seniors who cannot easily walk. All these injustices prolong poverty and destroy the lives of the most impoverished without any remedy.”

“Honolulu’s recently expanded nuisance laws are unconstitutional and inhumane,” added Coffield. “Everyone has a right to the city. If these laws are not intended to target the homeless, as Honolulu officials claim, then homeless people should be given a remedy for the disproportionate harm these ordinances cause to their families.”

The groups’ third measure, Senate Bill 273, would allow a homeless person applying for a state identification card to submit a sworn statement from an attorney, doctor, or victim service organization as evidence of the person’s address, date of birth, occupation, or social security number. The proposal was heard by the Human Services and Housing Committee on February 12 who voted to pass the bill with amendments.

“Abusive raids, led by the City at taxpayer expense, result in the disposal of necessities such as identification,” said Xian. “We have more than a dozen clients who have suffered such unconstitutional injustice. Without IDs, houseless persons and their families cannot obtain jobs, enter into housing, apply for Housing First programs, or obtain welfare services. SB 273 is an effort to remedy the impossible procedure of obtaining an ID reissuance when a houseless person has had all his or her possessions stolen and disposed of by the City.”

“Honolulu police routinely confiscate homeless people’s IDs during raids on their living spaces,” said Coffield. “State officials should provide a way for the houseless to obtain the government identification required for everything from employment to housing applications, while aggressively pressuring city leaders to stop stealing people’s legal documents.”

IMUAlliance is a nonpartisan political advocacy organization devoted to advancing human rights, socioeconomic equality and educational opportunity.

The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS), is a Hawaii-based not-for-profit 501(c)3 whose mission is to stop human trafficking in Hawaii and the Pacific. PASS provides services and advocacy for survivors of human trafficking, education and training on the identification of victims of human trafficking, and public awareness and prevention education for the greater community.