Legislators debate ways
to assist homeless

One proposal is to let people live
in parks under supervision

While lawmakers wrestle with solutions to make homes more affordable, the Rev. Bob Nakata can only watch the results of the high cost of housing: More and more homeless people are swept from various public parks and beaches.

"The recent sweeps of the homeless from parks across Oahu, and others that have occurred across the state over the years, clearly demonstrates a bankruptcy of policies ... to address the problem of homelessness," Nakata said last week in testimony to lawmakers.

"This lack," he added, "has led to an inhumane and really immoral policy of hounding the homeless from wherever they are to wherever they can find a place to snatch a few days of restless peace, only to be uprooted again."

Nakata, a former state lawmaker and now a pastor at Kahaluu United Methodist Church, is among advocates for the homeless who have lobbied lawmakers this year to find short-term solutions to Hawaii's homeless problem.

He testified last week in favor of a House resolution calling for a moratorium on sweeps of homeless people from large public parks.

Lawmakers took no action on the resolution to give advocates and opponents more time to work on the language of the bill.

"It's very, very broad," said House Human Services Chairman Alex Sonson (D, Pearl City-Waipahu). "It basically tells you that they can camp out at Kapiolani Park, Ala Moana Park and every public park.

"We're trying to come up with language that's a little bit more restrictive."

Many community members have spoken out against homeless camping in public parks, saying it creates a safety risk.

In a recent sweep at Oneula Beach Park, known as Hau Bush, police said residents had complained about assaults and domestic violence that occurred at the park. Other recent sweeps have occurred at Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia and Wahiawa Bridge.

The nonbinding resolution in the House asks federal, state and county governments to place a moratorium on homeless sweeps "until a program can be implemented by appropriate government agencies to designate areas of large public parks as places where the homeless can stay under supervision."

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources opposed the measure, saying it had neither the equipment nor the funds to assist with homelessness.

"The (DLNR) recognizes the importance of solving the homeless problem; however, the state parks' focus must remain to protect, preserve and interpret excellent examples of Hawaii's natural and cultural heritage," the department said.

The resolution states one solution being considered is for governments to designate areas within large parks where the homeless could stay.

Nakata suggested that the homeless who use the parks could even be included in discussions to develop rules by which homeless would have to abide when using the park space.

A decision on the House resolution is expected this week. A similar resolution in the Senate is also scheduled for decision-making this week.

The resolution comes as the House and Senate prepare to discuss a repeal of Act 50, a law passed last year aimed at removing squatters from public parks.

Supporters of a repeal, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which has challenged the act in federal court, say it is too vague and has resulted in authorities banning some people from public places such as the Hawaii State Library, airports and the University of Hawaii.

The House passed a bill earlier repealing Act 50 and creating a new misdemeanor crime to prevent squatting at public parks. The Senate amended the bill to be just a straight repeal of Act 50.

Both sides would have to agree on a measure for it to go to the governor for consideration.

"If the Senate is open to just repealing Act 50, then I think that's something we would seriously look at because it was a Senate bill that made it into Act 50 in the first place," said House Judiciary Vice Chairman Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa). "If they're willing to repeal it, then I don't think, from the House perspective, we would have any problem with that."

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