Three bills aimed at clearing the homeless and their possessions from city sidewalks passed first reading at the Feb. 20 City Council meeting.
Councilmembers say that Bills 2, 6 and 7 are simply intended to protect sidewalks for use by the general public. Bill 7, co-introduced by Ikaika Anderson, Ann Kobayashi and Ernie Martin, allows for property to be summarily impounded without the currently required 24-hour notice if it is deemed a “public nuisance.”
Several testifiers said that impounding items used for shelter places their owners at serious risk for exposure-related health problems. David Cannell said that his wife caught pneumonia and ended up in the hospital after her tent was impounded.
Many speakers contended that the bills are unconstitutional. “You can’t just take property summarily from people,” said Matthew Olsen.
Only one resident, Glen Elliot, spoke in unequivocal support of the bills. He said that those living at Thomas Square had taken away enjoyment of the park, which he says now smells like urine and is scattered with rubbish. “They have destroyed the park,” he said.
“When the City and County continues to criminalize houselessness, it sends a message that people who are houseless are dangerous,” said Sugar Russell, who spoke as an individual but is part of the (de)Occupy Honolulu group living at Thomas Square. While some homeless people may be dangerous or have substance abuse problems, most are “hardworking, taxpaying” citizens who have fallen on hard times or been victimized, she said.
Some speakers argued against the bill from a financial perspective, saying that it doesn’t make sense to spend money on raids and enforcing possessions bans when that money could be better spent actually housing people. “Shelters, housing first: These are the things that solve houselessness. Not criminalizing it,” Russell said.
Michael Tada entreated the council to look at the issue more compassionately. “How many homeless people have to die before you’ll care?” he asked. All three bills were referred to the Committee on Public Safety and Economic Development.