House Bill 31, a measure effectively aimed at the homeless by designating sleeping or reclining across multiple seats at bus stops as “disorderly conduct,” passed unanimously in the judiciary committee Jan. 31.
Chairperson Karl Rhoads, whose district includes Chinatown, said it is a “constant balancing act between making [public areas] livable for everyone else and treating the homeless and street people humanely.”
Rep. Bob McDermott expressed uncertainty, saying,“We’re chasing [the homeless] out of everywhere–I feel kind of bad for them,” but voted aye along with Rhoads, Sharon E. Har, Ken Ito, Clift Tsuji, Chris Lee and Cynthia Thielen.
The committee received testimony both in support and opposition for the bill at a public hearing Jan. 25. The Office of the Public Defender questioned how the measure could be enforced, as it may be difficult to differentiate between someone who simply falls asleep while waiting for the bus and someone who is living at a bus stop. The office also submitted written testimony saying that even if such behavior causes an inconvenience, making it a crime is not the answer.
Laurie A. Temple of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the bill for failing to address the underlying causes of homelessness. “Criminalizing homelessness forces the homeless to move away from social service providers and makes it more difficult for them to obtain employment and housing,” she testified.
Several private citizens, however, submitted testimony in support. Lila Marantz wrote in her testimony that “At times the vagrant hobos I have seen sleeping on the bus benches have been drunk, drugged, filthy and/or sleeping in their own urine.”