Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Homeless show who's boss by taking over city sidewalks

By David Shapiro

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A homeless person last week set up a shelter on the sidewalk of Kapi'olani Boulevard near McKinley High School. According to city officials, as long as a person can walk past the shelter, then the sidewalk isn't obstructed.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

spacer spacer

The war of wits between the city and homeless campers gets more frustrating by the day, with the majority of wits appearing to reside on the side of the campers.

Attempts to get campers out of Kapi'olani and Ala Moana parks by banning tents and shopping carts show mixed results so far, with some campers thwarting the new laws by switching to big umbrellas and baby strollers.

And now there's a report that some homeless are taking advantage of a loophole in the law and setting up camp on city sidewalks.

You'd think it would be a no-brainer that you can't pitch a tent and store your personal belongings on a public sidewalk, but the city says it's OK if the sidewalk isn't completely blocked.

"If I can get by, then someone is not obstructing the sidewalk," mayoral spokesman Bill Brennan said.

City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell said the city will take action "regarding anyone's structure or personal property that inappropriately obstructs public mobility or access to public spaces."

Apparently, the sidewalk living quarters that have been allowed to remain have been judged to be appropriately obstructing public mobility and access.

The thing is, some of us aren't as nimble-footed as city officials and ACLU lawyers in tiptoeing past sidewalk squatters. Those of us who travel the sidewalks in wheelchairs and motorized scooters pretty much need the whole sidewalk to safely pass.

If somebody is blocking us, we have to find a way down to the street and risk life and limb in traffic to bypass the obstruction.

When I once had to venture a few inches off the sidewalk to get around a bicycle that was blocking my way, I hit a rut, tipped over and the paramedics had to peel me off the pavement.

Why shouldn't disabled folks have the right to safely use city sidewalks to get from one place to another just like lawyers and homeless advocates who are fortunate enough to have the use of their legs?

Why can't sidewalk obstruction laws be interpreted broadly instead of narrowly so everybody who uses public pathways is protected? Why should we have to get a ruling on the appropriateness of the obstruction every time we encounter a lean-to blocking our way?

My heart goes out to homeless people who are down on their luck and have mental and physical incapacities to deal with, and I strongly support committing more public resources to extend them a hand.

But I have little sympathy for the ne'er-do-wells and substance abusers who refuse available shelter because they don't want to follow rules that would infringe on their addictions.

These are the ones who appear to take the most delight in matching wits with the city to find loopholes around reasonable laws to protect public property for its intended use.

It seems we can't build concrete shelters fast enough to keep up with the homeless ranks, and it may be inescapable that the only humane thing to do is accommodate some camping on public property.

But if that's the case, public agencies should have the right to designate appropriate space rather than campers assuming the right to set up wherever they please.

A resolution in the Legislature this year proposed establishing "safe zones" for homeless camping that would provide basic sanitation facilities and security. HCR 114 passed the House, but was opposed by the Lingle administration and didn't get a hearing in the Senate.

This is a potentially quick, sensible and relatively inexpensive transitional solution that gives the homeless someplace to go when they're removed from illegal encampments, and the idea should be pursued.