Take measures to discourage camping at bus stops
Residents are reporting an increasing number of the homeless on Oahu are taking residency at bus stops.
Oahu's homeless have learned that bus stops are places where they can camp without being forced by police to move on. No city ordinance prohibits a person from sitting or lying down at a bus stop with no plans to ride the bus, but the city needs to recognize it as a growing problem and seek practical solutions.
The Star-Bulletin's June Watanabe reported on the issue in two Kokua Line columns in August ("Homeless can take up space at bus stops" August 14, and "Ire rises as city lets homeless seize bus stops" August 20) and received angry responses from bus riders. One reader complained that some homeless people are making bus stops their permanent residences, causing the areas to stink of urine.
Anne Stevens, chairwoman of the Kakaako Neighborhood Board, and Lillian Novak, a member of the McCully citizen patrol, said more recently that the number of homeless staying overnight at bus stops has increased in their neighborhoods.
Stevens said homeless people leave trash and create a poor environment at bus stops. Noting that camping is prohibited in parks, she said, "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."
The city has made parks off-limits for camping by closing them at night or could outlaw the pitching of tents or other shelters in parks. However, prohibiting overnight "camping" at bus stops would be difficult if not impossible to enforce.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1999 that could prevent the city from prohibiting "loitering" at bus stops. The court struck down as unconstitutional a Chicago law, targeted at street gangs, that made it a crime to "remain in any one place with no apparent purpose" in the presence of a suspected gang member when ordered by police to move on.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "it is apparent that an individual's decision to remain in a public place of his choice" is protected by the 14th Amendment's due process guarantee. The ruling is cited by the National Coalition for the Homeless as protection for its clientele.
A more practical method of discouraging overnight residency at bus stops would be to make them less comfortable, such as installing armrests on benches, making surrounding areas unsuitable for reclining or, as one reader suggested to Kokua Line, removing roofs from some bus stops.
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