Honolulu government clueless on houselessness

Homeless Awareness Week begins tomorrow, but recent Honolulu City actions demonstrate a serious lack of any such awareness.

Will Caron

The Honolulu City Council meets today to decide the fate of Bill 48 (among other measures), yet another “sidewalk bill” that disproportionately effects (read: targets) the houseless. Given the council’s record on previous “sidewalk bills,” many of which are now law, and the fact that councilmember Breene Harimoto was the only no vote during the second reading for Bill 48, it seems likely this bill will also pass, further criminalizing the houseless in our city.

One such ordinance, passed recently, outlaws sitting and lying on sidewalks in the heavily tourist-populated Waikīkī District. Houseless advocates claim that this law has increased the number of houseless persons in other areas such as Kakaʻako, especially runaway and houseless youth.

But that’s not the only bad news hitting the houseless community in Kakaʻako. On the morning of November 13, the city conducted a sweep of houseless families living there, removing their belongings and forcing them to leave. The reason? CBS’s popular show Hawaii Five-0, filmed on location in Honolulu, wanted to stage a car chase in the area.

“There are over 300 houseless persons living in the Kakaʻako area,” said Executive Director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS) Kathryn Xian. “Most of them are young children. There are many other streets where this shoot can take place. There’s absolutely no reason to displace all these families.”

PASS works primarily on ending human trafficking and prostitution, but Xian, who recently ran for Congress, has been very active in advocating for the houseless population in Honolulu as well.

Previous Honolulu City Ordinances allow for the confiscation and destruction of belongings of anyone found living on sidewalks. Anyone who interferes may be arrested. The laws inherently target the houseless at a highly disproportionate level.

According to PASS, a pregnant houseless woman who was caught in the raid nearly went into labor from the stress of having to move her belongings. She is due to give birth on November 23, but many of her things were confiscated by the city to make way for the location shoot. Thanks to a previous Honolulu City Ordinance, she will have to pay up to $200 to get whatever wasn’t destroyed back.

“[These raids] do not accomplish anything but to prolong the state of homelessness for these people who are struggling to survive,” said Xian.

Hawaiʻi was recently ranked highest in the nation in homeless persons per capita. Hawaiʻi currently has the highest cost of living in the nation, one of the most regressive tax-systems, and only recently raised its minimum wage after seven years of rising costs of living. The wage will reach $10.10, but not until 2018.

Photo credit: Marina Riker / INhonolulu