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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 29, 2010

City must pass bills on tents, carts in parks

The city can no longer skirt the issue of tents springing up all over O'ahu's parks especially in Waikīkī, where tourists are noticing the slovenly appearance of Kapi'olani Park and complaining about it.

The need to keep parks available to the general public gives the City Council all the reason it needs to pass Bills 7 and 8, two measures aimed at restricting vagrancy in city parks. Respectively, they would ban walled tents at city parks unless the owner has a camping permit and would make the use or storage of a supermarket shopping cart a restricted park activity.

Unfortunately, this crackdown is needed if the city is ever to reclaim its parks from the spillover effect of a mounting homelessness problem.

Officials are thinking long and hard before acting on this because so many families are in distress, especially during a recession that has people on the brink of homelessness or already driven to the streets.

The city does have a crucial part to play in helping O'ahu's homeless population. But settling on a comprehensive solution a range of affordable homes and decent long-term housing for the chronically homeless is a tall order.

For example, the not-in-my-backyard concerns of the Chinatown community have set back a city proposal to site a new shelter there. The council should find the determination to build a homeless center in the urban core to provide a safe shelter to those who need it.

It's true that some people will resist going to any shelter. But that does not absolve the city of its duty to maintain parks for use by the broader community.

Requiring the free camping permits for all walled tents is a completely reasonable rule. Shade-producing tarps will be allowed, without a permit, and tent usage in large park events are covered by special permits.

The ban on shopping carts, which have no place in a park, is acceptable, too. They belong at the markets, or at nearby residential complexes that have arranged with stores to let elderly shoppers use them.

Enforcement will be challenging, especially since the city will need to demonstrate it's applying the rules fairly, to people who merely want a walled tent for the day as well as to those using it as a makeshift shelter.

City officials said police will first issue a warning before citing offenders. So it's possible that scofflaws will evade citation by simply moving to another spot after each warning.

Nevertheless, officials are right to take this step, in the hopes that at least some people will heed the warnings and, with help, find a better place to live. Homelessness is a problem that will take a multi-pronged strategy, and political will, to resolve.

Meanwhile, local residents should get their parks back.