Faulty law stymies effort to move Waikiki's homeless
We notice that there are more homeless people on Kuhio Beach and Queen's Beach in Waikiki. We visit Hono- lulu every two months and the homeless seem to be multiplying. Why is the city allowing them to be on the beach? A lot of them sleep on the beach at night and also harass the tourists. They have barbecues and tents set up. That's not a good thing if you want the tourists to keep coming.
Answer: Police are well aware of the problem, getting weekly "demands to kick them (the homeless) off the beach," said Capt. Jeff Richards, of the Honolulu Police Department's District 6, which includes Waikiki.
For the year ending last November, police had issued nearly 1,600 citations for illegal camping in the Waikiki area alone, he said. But that all changed Nov. 16.
That's when the state Supreme Court ruled that the city ordinance prohibiting "camping" in city parks and beaches without a permit was unconstitutional because it was too vague.
Since then, officials have been working to come up with a new, constitutionally acceptable, law.
Last Thursday, a City Council committee passed Bill 42, which would amend the definition of "camping" in the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu. It is scheduled to go before the full Council for a public hearing on July 23.
If eventually approved by the Council, the amended law would allow police to once again enforce the camping laws, according to Capt. Letha DeCaires, HPD's legislative liaison.
For now, without a law to force people to leave the park or beach, even if they set up tents and barbecue grills, police have stopped issuing citations, Richards said.
Officers will try to get the homeless to move when they can, such as late at night, when the beach sweeper comes by and it becomes a safety issue.
If you are being harassed or threatened in some way, that's another matter and should be reported.
Otherwise, "The (crimes) we witness, we address ... daily," Richards said. But, for now, "sleeping on the beach is not a crime," he said.
Richards added that when people complain to police that they need to force the homeless out because tourism is the "economic engine of the state" and that Waikiki "is the jewel of the state," it's "talking to the choir. We understand that. But we enforce the laws. We're not authorized to be social workers."
Another factor stymieing efforts to remove homeless people from Waikiki beach and park areas is the fact that there are no park closures in Waikiki, as there are in many other parks on Oahu.
Closing parks for certain periods is "the only tool we have" to deal not only with the homeless, but with noise and other late-night park issues, said Lester Chang, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
However, there are no plans to close any park in Waikiki.
Parks officials have been meeting weekly with police and other agencies trying to figure out a solution, Chang said.
The focus, for now, is on providing more social services, while working to clarify the camping law, he said.
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