Council revisits issue of vagrants at bus stops
The City Council is considering a measure that would ban vagrants from occupying bus stops -- something, some say, that is bothering bus riders with increasing frequency.
The bill, crafted by Councilman Rod Tam and co-introduced by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, would prohibit homeless people from lying down or sleeping at the stops during the hours city buses are running. It would also ban them from bringing large bags or shopping carts to the bus stops.
"We certainly want to protect the bus riders," Kobayashi said. "But we also want to help the homeless. We need to solve both problems, but bus riders certainly have the right to use the bus and feel safe at the stops."
A City Council committee will discuss the issue at a meeting tomorrow, but this isn't the first time a bill restricting homeless activities at bus stops has been introduced.
City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said the city has received several complaints about homeless sleeping at bus stops, but enforcing a ban would be difficult.
The bill would impose a maximum fine of $50 for violators, unless the person is found to have a physical or mental incapacitation. Yoshioka pointed out that many homeless may fall under these exceptions.
"Everyone thinks the intent of the bill is good," Yoshioka said. "It's a difficult topic because it's clear they shouldn't be there, and they're impacting our bus riders. On the other hand, we realize that we're dealing with people and we're trying to be sensitive."
Yoshioka said the city administration, including the Honolulu Police Department, may recommend amendments to the bill.
Darlene Hein, program director for the Waikiki Health Center, which provides outreach to homeless, said people are drawn to bus stops because they're sheltered and safe.
"They see them as lit and safe," Hein said. "It's some place where they haven't really felt harassed. This is a tough situation. If we don't work on the underlying problems, then we're just furthering the problems and not working on the solution."
Anne Stevens, chairwoman of the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board, said she supports the bill and believes the ban should be at all hours.
"While I'm really concerned about homeless people to have a safe place to sleep at night, I really believe the citizens that ride the bus deserve to have a place to sit and wait and not feel uncomfortable that someone is stretched out next to them," said Stevens, who lives near a bus stop at Ala Moana Boulevard and Piikoi Street that is frequently occupied by homeless people.