Homeless sweeps or sanitation activities? Lawyers say there is no difference

During the election campaign, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi vowed to end the sweeps of the homeless, saying the tactic known as “compassionate disruption” has failed to tackle the causes root of the problem.

The sweeps – which were carried out by the Honolulu Police Department and the city’s clean-up crews – were a common component of former Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s two tenures. They targeted Oahu’s many homeless settlements, enforced park closure laws, and forced people into shelters.

Critics, including candidate Blangiardi, said the approach “just moves our homeless people into our communities.”

Blangiardi has now been in power for eight months, and advocates and the homeless say sweeps are still taking place.

“Calling something by a different name doesn’t change what they’re doing, and that’s what’s problematic here,” said Wookie Kim, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Municipal workers help clean up a homeless camp under a bridge on Kapiolani Boulevard. Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration insists actions are aimed at promoting sanitation, not homeless sweeps. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Anton Krucky, executive director of the city’s Housing and Homelessness Bureau, said the teams do not target the homeless but engage in “sanitation activities”, such as clearing sidewalks and managing the park .

“Our administration does not see this as a strategy for the homeless, but rather as a disposal of debris, garbage and bulky items left on sidewalks, streets and parks,” he said in a statement. E-mail. “Unfortunately, this means that those who are not protected can be affected by the efforts.”

He said a key difference under Blangiardi is that teams going to the settlements are accompanied by outreach service providers providing care and services to the homeless who may be uprooted.

‘No rest for the wicked’

Every day, the maintenance service of the city’s facilities the website publishes its application schedule despite the directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that discourage the practice of cleaning up camps during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On a recent Tuesday morning, the teams arriving in three police cars, a garbage truck and a van emptied a homeless camp under a Boulevard Kapiolani bridge in the Palolo stream area. They carried tables, chairs and other materials in the trucks.

City crews returned to the same location two days later to complete the job.

Homeless people and advocates say one of the biggest problems with sweeps is that they often lose personal items and documents, including birth certificates, social security cards or identity documents.

“Calling something by a different name doesn’t change what they’re doing, and that’s what’s problematic here.” – Hawaii ACLU Wookie Kim

Jessie Jo, who said she has been living on the streets since 2009, no longer cares about keeping much because she has lost so many items, including her wallet.

“No rest for the wicked,” she said. “They’re just going to make you as miserable as they can be and force you to live in a shelter, which isn’t always the best situation. It will make you sick and tired of having to do this and having to start all over again. “

Mayor Rick Blangiardi answers questions about Level 4 at a press conference in Honolulu Hale.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration says its approach to homelessness is different because it includes outreach workers to provide assistance. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Krucky says the Blangiardi administration is adhering to the storage property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances by giving people 30 minutes to collect their items.

Most people are also notified the day before the cleanup, ”Krucky said. “The city provides individuals with a tag to claim their property for up to 45 days.”

He added that his office also supports less intrusive programs to help the homeless.

These include the Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons program, which provides mobile units that can stay in place for up to 90 days to provide short-term shelter and help with the transition to other settlements. And the Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement program, which aims to provide on-site services to people living on the streets with mental health or medical issues, will begin in the fall.

“We believe in finding and maintaining programs that allow a person to thrive and find a sense of belonging, and that strengthen our community as a whole,” said Krucky.

Ticket violations

Homeless advocates have long voiced concerns that sweeps are disruptive and further traumatize Honolulu’s most vulnerable people.

Many homeless people refuse to go to a shelter due to overcrowding and fear of contracting Covid-19.

For example, although the Keauhou Shelter in Moiliili has 69 units available to house 76 people, its occupancy rate is 97%, according to Mary Beth Lohman, director of marketing and development at Waikiki Health.

ACLU Executive Director Josh Wisch said the sweeps were illegal and unconstitutional, citing a federal decision that applies to Honolulu.

“Sweeps are expensive because they use money that could be better spent on helping people rather than harassing them,” Wisch said. “And sweeps are inhumane. The mayor has the power to end it, and he should.

Homeless people were disproportionately cited last year due to the city’s Lies Law and Covid-19 restrictions. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2020

Honolulu has banned sitting or lying in 18 neighborhoods, obstruct public sidewalks and store personal effects in the public domain. Last year, the city council tried but failed to extend the sit-lief restrictions.

In the first eight months of last year – in addition to quotes from Covid – more than 6,549 people were fined for violating the ban on sit-liefs and blocking sidewalks. And more than 90% of the more than 23,000 people who received at least one Covid-19 citation had a record of homelessness-related violations in the past three years.

HPD continues to accuse the homeless of violating city ordinances. So far this year, 1,729 tickets have been issued for violations of the Lies Law alone, according to data provided by the state’s judiciary.

Fear of increasing homelessness

Advocates, meanwhile, fear that tenants behind on rent could be evicted from their homes, which would exacerbate growing homelessness.

The Supreme Court last week rejected the Biden administration’s latest deportation ban linked to Covid.

“We could double the number of people and families who are homeless and undergoing these sweeps before January 2022,” said Jack Slater, member of the Honolulu Tenants Union. He estimated that up to 20,000 households are in arrears with rent across the state.

No official statistics on the number of homeless people in the state are available.

The Point in Time Count, a one-day event that allows outreach workers to measure the status of unprotected people in the state, was unable to send workers to the streets this year due to Covid-19 . But the investigation found that 1,185 people were in emergency shelters, 640 in transitional housing and 28 in shelters.

Last year, the Point In Time Count reported that there were 4,448 homeless people statewide, 53% of whom lived on the streets and 47% had sought refuge.

“What we’ve heard from anecdotal reports and people on the ground is that yes, the number of homeless and homeless people has increased during the pandemic,” Wisch said.

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