Time's up for tents


POSTED: Thursday, March 18, 2010

John Johnson was playing cards at a picnic table in Kapiolani Park when he learned that the City Council had passed a ban on tents in parks unless the user has a permit.

“;It's bad enough. It's just not fair,”; said Johnson, who has lived in a small blue tent in the park for about two months. “;What's the reason why? We're just everyday people.”;

The City Council also passed a ban on shopping carts in city parks yesterday. Both bills passed by votes of 7-2 and now go to Mayor Mufi Hannemann for consideration. They would take effect upon his signature.

Hannemann's administration introduced the bills, which would make it tougher for the homeless to linger in public parks.

Alethea Rebman, board president of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society, said the measures are needed because the homeless are taking up prime oceanfront space in the park.

“;You can't turn Kapiolani Park into your private place to get your rest,”; she said. “;No one group gets to monopolize it.”;

Homeless advocates were on both sides of the issue.

Robert Erb, known as Pastor Bob of the Waikiki Beach Outreach Ministry, said he abhors what the City Council was trying to do and called the two measures “;state-sanctioned prejudism against the poor.”;

Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, said she supports the bills in that they would help close a legal loophole that allows some people to remain in parks.

“;It's not a bill against homeless people. It's a bill for the general public,”; she said.

Some homeless advocates have previously testified that reducing options for homeless in the parks sometimes prompts them to seek out the available shelter and treatment services.

Doran Porter, executive director of service provider Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, opposes the bans because his clients are on the North Shore and in Windward Oahu and Central Oahu, making it hard for them to have to leave their support system and live in a shelter downtown.

He wants lawmakers to create a safe zone for the homeless to stay in until they get back on their feet.

“;A lot of the homeless we deal with are not bums,”; he said. “;They're simply people who are down on their luck. Statistically, most people in Hawaii are two paychecks from being in the same boat.

“;The emphasis needs to be on providing solutions and services,”; he said.

If the measures become law, the penalty for a conviction will be a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment of up to 30 days.

Councilmen Nestor Garcia and Romy Cachola cast the two no votes on both measures.

Cachola echoed concerns in some testimony and questioned whether police could enforce the measures.

“;They have better things to do than just chasing the homeless from one park to another,”; he said.

Debbie Kim Morikawa, city director of community services, noted that enforcement usually does not occur overnight and the city works with police and homeless service providers to provide warnings and advance notice.

Some homeless people said the bans would not displace them.

“;If we can't have a tent, then I'll just get a canopy,”; said D. Sampson, who has lived at Kapiolani Park for about six months.

Charles Kiyooka, a resident of the Gold Coast, said he believes the bans are needed to reduce the number of people living in the park.

“;It's unsightly,”; he said. “;Nothing else has worked.”;