JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
A homeless woman, seen with her dog, sits at the bus stop on King Street across the street from Times Supermarket in Moiliili.
Living at a bus stop is legal
It's become an all-too-familiar sight: a person curled up on the covered bench of a bus stop, with perhaps a shopping cart full of belongings close at hand.
While some citizens groups report an increase in homeless people taking over bus stops, the city says that the practice is legal and not yet a widespread problem.
For their part, the homeless say bus stops offer one of the few places where they can sleep without being harassed by police.
On Piikoi Street near Ala Moana Center recently, one bench was occupied by a man with a cart while a second man slept on a cot next to the stop. A third person was sprawled out at an adjoining stop.
"It's the ideal thing," said a man who identified himself as Thomas, who said he occupies a "cubbyhole" on Piikoi. "The cops don't really crack down and hassle you that much. Besides, you get a little shelter."
Some residents say people sleeping at bus stops create a poor image and a squalid environment while taking space for older people who might need to sit down.
In Kakaako, neighborhood board Chairwoman Anne Stevens said homeless people trade off at the bus stop across from her building on Piikoi Street, where they leave trash and create a poor environment.
"They've got to have an ordinance about camping," she said. "We can cite people for illegal camping. If somebody's got a sleeping bag and a pillow and it's the middle of the night and they're sound asleep at the bus stop, to me that's camping."
Homelessness in her neighborhood seems to have increased since the city began closing Ala Moana Beach Park at night about 18 months ago, she said.
Lillian Novak, a member of the McCully citizen patrol, has walked the streets of McCully every week for 10 years and has noticed a growth in the number of homeless this year.
"We've been having a lot of problems with the homeless invading our neighborhood," she said in a recent phone interview.
One woman has been sleeping at a bus stop across from Times Supermarket on King Street despite neighbors' attempts to help her, Novak said.
"We do receive comments from the public with regard to people spending time at various locations," said Melvin Kaku, director of the city's Department of Transportation Services.
While the city does not keep track of the number of complaints, he said, employees do investigate reports of people taking over bus stops as shelters.
Two stops on Nimitz Highway near Sand Island Access Road and in Iwilei have been power-washed, for instance, he said. Employees also cleaned and removed the shelter at Kapiolani Boulevard and Cooke Street, he added. The bus stop is still there.
The problem has not grown to the extent that the city needs an ordinance to move people from bus stops, Kaku said.
Police said the issue is an occasional problem. The number of complaints varies, depending on which part of the island you are looking at, said police spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
But occupying a bus stop bench is legal, she said. An officer may check on a person or ask them to make room for another person but will take legal action only if a crime is being committed, she said.