Thursday, April 14, 2005

Members of several churches and other groups called on the government yesterday to grant a moratorium on rousting homeless people from public parks and beaches and to support bills in the Legislature providing a "safe haven" for families without homes. Iris Lopez, left, and Erlinda Sarvida were among about 200 people who attended the rally.

Homeless march
on state Capitol

About 200 demonstrators ask
for more money for shelters

After twice being swept off public beaches, Joseph Hoffman Jr. is now among the homeless living in one of the only spaces left that will have him: the parking lot of the Honolulu Community Action Project in Waianae.

Yesterday, he traveled to the state Capitol with a message for lawmakers.

"Leave us homeless alone," said Hoffman, 38. "We're not bothering nobody. ... We're not criminals. We're not druggies."

Hoffman was among the roughly 200 homeless residents, advocates and other supporters who rallied at the Capitol to call attention to their plight.

They called on lawmakers to set aside more money for homeless programs and shelters, repeal a year-old law that critics say criminalizes homelessness and place a moratorium on police sweeps of homeless from public parks and beaches.

"Being homeless is not a crime," said Darlene Hein, of the group Partners in Care. "We need real solutions."

Both the House and Senate have advanced their own proposals for dealing with affordable housing and homelessness.

Some of their ideas include:

» Creating incentives for private developers to build rental housing for working families.
» Easing restrictions on public financing programs.
» Streamlining the permitting and approval process to encourage private companies to build homes for middle- and low-income families.

Gov. Linda Lingle also wants majority Democrats to take a stand by prohibiting raids on any special funds dedicated to housing.

"We think, at a minimum, they ought to take the position that says, 'We are in a crisis,'" Lingle told reporters yesterday.

The Rev. Bob Nakata, an advocate for the homeless and former state lawmaker, said his top priority is ending sweeps of homeless people from large public parks and beaches.

"The problem of what to do with the people now who are being evicted ... is what were trying to address," said Nakata, a pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church.

Community members have spoken out against homeless camping in public parks, saying it creates a safety risk.

Lingle said she does not support any measure that would allow use of public parks by homeless.

"I think that's going in the wrong direction," she said. "It's not fair to the majority of taxpayers in this state and families who want to use and have a right to use public facilities."

Yesterday's rally also called attention to Act 50, a law passed unanimously by the Legislature last year that was aimed at removing squatters from public parks and beaches.

Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) introduced the bill that became Act 50 but has said its intent was to remove from public property people who can afford housing but choose instead to live on the beach.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii also has challenged Act 50 in federal court, arguing it is too vague and can be used by authorities to ban people from any public property for any reason. Attorney General Mark Bennett has said he believes the law is constitutional.

Both houses have passed a measure to repeal Act 50.

House Housing Chairman Michael Kahikina (D, Kalaeloa-Nanakuli) said: "The safety of people is my concern, but we've got to look at it as how many people are we affecting negatively or positively, and in this case, Act 50 has been affecting poor people."

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