Group ranks
Honolulu 19th ‘meanest’
city to homeless

City officials dispute the designation, citing
a $6-million housing program in the works

For a second year in a row, Honolulu has been named one of the "meanest cities" in the country for its treatment of homeless people, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

"We need to do more," said Donald Whitehead, coalition executive director. "The message is not getting across strongly enough."

The coalition released a report yesterday called "The Criminalization of Homelessness in the United States," which listed the country's 20 "meanest cities." Las Vegas topped the list followed by San Francisco and New York City. Honolulu was ranked 19th, followed by Boulder, Colo.

Last year, the coalition ranked Honolulu as one of the 12 "meanest" cities.

The coalition collected data from 147 communities across the country and judged them based on criteria, such as enforcement of laws and severity of penalties, general political climate toward homeless and local organizations supporting the "meanest" designation.

The communities were also judged on the number of homeless laws -- such as closure of public places and forbidding loitering or camping by homeless in public places.

According to the report, community members asked the city to clean up the downtown area, and the city responded by putting in benches at Fort Street Mall with bars in the middle to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.

Whitehead said the city instead could have provided alternatives for the homeless rather than removing benches. "It's a mean-spirited approach," he said.

Lynn Maunakea, executive director for the Institute for Human Services, said: "The cruelest thing of keeping people out is not opening up alternatives of where they can go. When you take things away, it would be good to put something in place.

"You're taking care of one problem and you're creating others. It's not a solution, it's a Band-Aid."

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said it is unfair to designate Honolulu as one of the meanest cities when the city has continued to support and has been actively pursuing more ways to assist the homeless.

Costa said $6 million is currently slated for a housing program that will serve as a "campus-like" setting where homeless people can access job, health and housing needs. The location of the program has yet to be determined. Also, the city has earmarked $4 million for fiscal year 2004 to support eight Honolulu projects that serve the homeless.

Honolulu police Maj. Michael Tucker said police continue to respond to complaints made by park-goers who are unable to use the bathroom at Ala Moana Beach Park because the homeless are camping in them. Police have also responded to calls of the homeless sleeping on park benches and picnic tables.


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