'Mean' homeless report skewed


POSTED: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

National advocacy groups for the homeless rank Honolulu as the eighth “;meanest”; city in the nation, on the premise that the homeless should be allowed to lie down, pitch their tents, beg and urinate whenever and wherever they want. A more objective report four months ago by the National Center on Family Homelessness ranked Hawaii fourth best among states in care for homeless children, including state and local policies on homelessness.

Any assessment of the homeless should weigh their rights of access against the threat of their takeover of beaches and parks. Mayor Mufi Hannemann has rightly stressed “;that our parks should be available for everyone and not just for one segment of the community.”;

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty appear most outraged that the City Council has tried to halt homeless sleeping at bus stops and overnight camping at parks and beaches. Its report, titled “;Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,”; chides the Council for simply passing “;yet another”; camping ban last August after the state Supreme Court struck down its first attempt.

Actually, the high court struck down the ordinance, which was based on a National Park Service regulation, because it was not precise in what was meant by using a park illegally “;for living accommodations.”; The Council has added language aimed at defining illegal activity more clearly, although it too might be challenged in court.

“;The ban on overnight sleeping has not worked — homeless individuals simply stay up at night and sleep during the day,”; the report insists, “;making it even more difficult for them to find employment.”;

While the city has displaced homeless people who had been sleeping at beach parks, the state has set up homeless shelters to accommodate their needs. Shelters are open to homeless families, but homeless men appear to have been the prime residents of Kapiolani Park.

The coalition's report does not pretend to be balanced. Its ranking is based on a checklist of whether the cities have ordinances restricting urination/defecation in public; bathing in particular public waters; begging; loitering, sleeping or camping in particular public places or in public city-wide; vagrancy or a host of more specific controls. Any such ordinance is a strike against the city.

The report mocks the Council for interfering with “;the sleeping habits of the homeless”; by retrofitting benches at bus stops with round concrete stools and proposing to make it a crime to sleep at a bus stop. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person's “;decision to remain in a public place of his choice”; is protected by the 14th Amendment's due process guarantee, so the Council is trying to make overnight camping at bus stops uncomfortable at the very least.