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Hawaii panel advances plans for homeless people

August 30, 2014 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — Honolulu council members are negotiating with the state of Hawaii to allow homeless people to set up camp on Sand Island while they advance a group of bills aimed at moving homeless families out of tourist meccas like Waikiki.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that the Sand Island site would be open only until the city can provide more permanent housing options, which could take up to 18 months.

The City Council Zoning and Planning Committee also advanced five bills that would make it more difficult for homeless families to stay on sidewalks throughout Oahu.

The bills would ban sitting on and lying down on sidewalks in Waikiki and across the island and would ban urinating and defecating in public.

Councilman Breene Harimoto voted against the measures. He questioned why the city is rushing to pass punitive laws when permanent housing and services are not yet ready.

The panel approved the bills after more than four hours of emotional public testimony. Proponents said the city needs to clear its sidewalks for pedestrians and clean up unsightliness in Waikiki. Opponents said the bills criminalize living on the streets and called the legislation inhumane.

The same committee deferred the bills in July, saying at the time that the city had not provided enough information about Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption” policy.

The city plans to open a secured, 24-hour restroom in Waikiki in the coming weeks to prepare for the ban on urinating and defecating, said Ember Shinn, managing director of the city’s Housing First program.

Officials also plan to open a new housing facility using part of a $42 million appropriation earmarked for affordable housing projects and programs for homeless people.

Waikiki resident Jo-Ann Adams said she supports the Waikiki bills.

“It’s a sidewalk, not a side-sit, not a side-lie,” Adams said. “It has been designed for the express purpose so that pedestrians can move from Point A to Point B, which in Waikiki is critical, because if you’re forced off the sidewalk, we have tremendous traffic problems and you are likely to be injured.”

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